A Wall of Silence: When Mom Has Depression

Talking To Kids About Depression

As tempting as it is to dodge the topic entirely, experts say it's best not to shield your children from what you're going through. You can bring it up with kids as young as age 3. More advice:

  • Sit down as a family. Present a unified front with your spouse. Discuss any scary events the kids may have witnessed. Try something like, "I have an illness that's making me tired and cranky -- you are not making me feel that way. And we've got a plan to help me get better." (Dr. William R. Beardslee recommends avoiding the word depression until a child is at least 8.) Above all, kids need to know that their parents are going to be okay.
  • Let them ask questions. Young kids might worry that they can catch Mommy's illness, or they might feel responsible and want to cure it. Encourage open communication; depression should never be stigmatized by secrecy or shame.
  • Reinforce the family bond. Recall earlier happy times and point out to your children that their beloved rituals -- Sunday dinner, birthdays, holidays -- will remain.
  • Keep talking. It takes time for children to understand depression and voice their concerns. Kids who do well in these circumstances are able to grasp that depression might recur, and they can articulate protective strategies, such as talking to other supportive adults and participating in activities

Originally published in the June 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

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