The family is the basic fundamental unit of our society, and depression of one family member always affects the rest of the family. A child struggling with temporary feelings of depression can be difficult to understand and deal with. He or she may bring feelings of guilt, frustration or helplessness to parents. It is important that treating depression be a priority. It is also important to recognize whether the feelings of depression are a short term concern or should be treated as a long term condition.
Without intending to, you can make your son or child feel rejected or misunderstood when you are confronted with their depressive behaviors. All of the family members, including parents, brothers and sisters, and extended family, should have a basic understanding of depression so that the affected child is not shamed or misunderstood. Your child deserves to have good support and understanding. Your family deserves to feel safe and happy.
There are a number of steps that you can take to help your son or daughter who has depression.
1) Understand that depression is very treatable. Also understand that there may be reasons for the child’s low moods. Gather information. Encourage your child to talk to you. Talk to the school, friends, and family to see if they have noticed a change in mood or behavior. Take the child to his or her pediatrician to insure that there are no physical causes of the feelings of fatigue, aches and pains, and low moods.
2) Provide love and understanding. Learn about depression, so that you can recognize situations which may lead your child to feel rejected or misunderstood. Make sure you know and they know that you love them unconditionally. Help your child realize that his or her feelings are normal: “Everyone gets down sometimes.” Your son or daughter needs to know that depression is not a sign of weakness, nor is seeking treatment.
3) Don’t pressure your child to talk if they are not ready to. Just be ready and available when they are.
4) Keep kids busy. Insist that they continue to interact with the family, that they get up, make their bed, do the dishes, do their homework. Don’t let them avoid their responsibilities. Of course, don’t yell at them, but coach them. Gently confront their inactivity and isolation. You don’t want your children to think that because they are depressed that they don’t have to follow the rules. It is not an excuse.
5) Encourage your child to exercise daily, or at least 3 times a week. There is a lot of research to support the idea that exercise increases one’s confidence and positive feelings. In addition, make sure that your child gets consistent regular sleep and eats regular healthy meals.
6) Encourage your child to keep a journal. Encourage him or her to write, draw, or doodle in it. This often helps children to identify and express their feelings.
7) Encourage your child to identify a few support people such as peers, teachers, or family members with whom he or she is comfortable sharing his or her feelings with. Have these people regularly contact your child, and have your child regularly contact them.
8) If your son or daughter continues to experience feelings of depression or shows any of the following symptoms, seek professional treatment from a Clinical Social Worker or professional counselor: making suicidal statements, is preoccupied with death in conversation, writing or drawing, gives away belongings, withdrawals from family and friends, or has aggressive behavior.