How do I respond when my grade-schoolers ask me why I’ve been crying? How do I explain this insidious illness to them?
Two years ago I wrote a children’s book devoted to these questions. It’s called, What Does Depressed Mean? A Guidebook for Children with a Depressed Loved One.
Excerpted from the book, here are seven things that you can say to your child when you’re depressed.
Your loved one is sick.
You have probably heard someone say that your loved one is “depressed,” and you wonder what that means. You understand when a friend breaks his leg, or sprains a wrist, or has the flu. But what does it mean when someone’s depressed?
Depression is an illness like any other illness. The messengers inside the brain that deliver notes from one side to the other get stuck … kind of like when you are supposed to bring in a permission slip from a parent to your teacher. If the note never got there, your teacher wouldn’t know what to do, right? Depression is the same sort of thing. Messages get stuck, and so the person becomes confused or sad.
Depression is invisible.
Depression is very weird to children because it’s invisible! It’s like the hidden pictures in those 3-D posters. Unless you wear 3-D glasses, you can’t see them.
In the same way, your loved one looks perfectly normal, right? It’s hard to believe that he or she is sick. Try to imagine the depression like the hidden picture in a poster. What you see on the outside isn’t all that is there. It isn’t like looking at an apple and knowing that it is an apple. You can’t see depression with your eyes, but it is still a sickness that needs to be treated.
You are not to blame.
When I was a little girl, my mom was depressed and I used to think it was my fault … that she was sad because I wasn’t as good or as smart as she wanted me to be, or that she was disappointed by something that I had said or done. I was sure that I had upset her, but I didn’t know what I did. That wasn’t true at all! She told me so after she felt better. It is easy to blame yourself when someone is depressed, but the illness has nothing to do with you.
It’s okay to cry.
Did you know that crying is good for you? Like eating a big piece of broccoli or a fresh apple? When you cry, the icky stuff that gets stuck somewhere in your body comes out with your tears! It’s like taking a bath. But instead of cleaning up your outside, it cleans your insides.
Don’t take it personally.
Sometimes depressed people say things they don’t mean. It’s like when your teacher doesn’t want you to use certain words. You do a pretty good job of that, but then you have a day here and there when you say the words anyway!
When people are depressed, they may say the words they aren’t supposed to say. But they don’t have a teacher to tell them not to say them anymore. They are frustrated because they feel bad, so sometimes they scream at someone just because the person is in the same room! Try not to take it personally. The depressed person is just as mad because they don’t feel good.
You are still loved.
When a person is grumpy, it is easier to think that he or she no longer loves you. Their actions — tears, yelling, grumpy fits — speak louder than their words. It’s hard to remember they still love you even when they are not acting like they do. You are still very much loved by the person who is depressed.
Depression can be treated.
The very good news about depression is that it can easily be treated! Unlike other illnesses where there is a high chance that the person will never get better, most people who are depressed soon feel better.
They may need a few weeks, or maybe even a few months, to take medicine and do other things they need to do to feel better, but it won’t be long before they have as much energy as they did before. There is hope! Lots of hope!
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Nov 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Borchard, T. (2013). 7 Things a Depressed Parent Can Say to a Child. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 12, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/11/13/7-things-a-depressed-parent-can-say-to-a-child/