How Can I Help My Child Who Has Depression?
Depression is a serious illness that can make it difficult for children to engage in school, create meaningful relationships, and enjoy life. If untreated, it can have lasting effects on their growth and development. If your child is depressed, it can be overwhelming knowing how to support them. How can I help my child who has Depression?
Here are some ways to support your child and yourself when navigating depression:
- Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Many children and teens in therapy describe how the adults in their lives minimize and dismiss their struggles. In an effort to make their child feel better, well-meaning parents can do this by trying to find the silver lining for their child. Sometimes parents will say things such as, “You’ll feel better tomorrow”, “This isn’t a big deal” or “It could be worse.” Instead of saying these things, acknowledge that the problems in your child’s life matter, even if they may seem trivial to you. Give your child permission to feel what they feel, and do so in a non judgmental way. When talking with your child, avoid asking too many questions or trying to solve their problems. Listen, be with them, and empathize. When your child feels validated, it not only strengthens their sense of self, but also strengthens your relationship with them. This makes them more likely to be open and honest with you in the future. Validating your child’s feelings is important in helping them build self-esteem and promotes emotional health.
- Spend Time With Your Child
Your depressed child might have a tendency to isolate. Spend time with them. Social connection is an important aspect of healing depression. Try not to turn this into a power struggle. Meet them where they are at, and engage in activities you can both enjoy.
- Seek Professional Help
Seek out a mental health professional to support your child and family. If your child is old enough, involve them in treatment choices. Research a few therapists or counselors and get a feel for their style/approach to therapy. If your child doesn’t connect with one, try another.
- Don’t Keep it a Secret
Respect your child’s privacy but don’t keep their depression a secret. This can lead to further feelings of shame. If your child is comfortable let a trusted teacher or school counselor know so that they have support in that setting as well. Be open with your child’s siblings, they will know that something is ‘wrong.’
- Don’t Ignore Worsening Symptoms
You know your child better than anyone. Trust your gut, if you feel that something is off it probably is. Do research on symptoms of depression and suicide. Notice changes in behaviors and emotions, increase in complaints of aches and pains, increased social withdrawal, increased feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness. In younger children notice changes in their play. If your child says phrases like “I wish I was dead” take it seriously.
- Take Care of Yourself
Having a child with a mental illness is not easy, take care of yourself. Seek out your own support and be honest about your feelings. Children notice SO much of what adults do. One of the best ways you can help your child is to model good self care. As much as possible, engage in movement, good nutrition, and regular sleep.
- Be Patient and Hopeful
Children can recover from depression, but it won’t happen overnight. Be patient and be hopeful and focus on healthy lifestyle for yourself and your child.
What have you done to help your child with depression?
Blog written by Annalise John, MSW, LICSW. To schedule an appointment for yourself or your child with Annalise, please visit our website.