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Parenting When You Have Depression

Depression is an illness that affects around 10% of the American population. While many think depression is just low mood you can shake off with a feel-good movie, the reality is: some cases of depression are overwhelming, difficult to control and long-lasting. Managing depression for one’s self can be challenging enough, but what if you have children who depend on you? The last thing you want to do is use your children as emotional crutches.

If you’re a parent suffering from depression, consider the following tips:

Get it out in the open. Know that you don’t have to keep your condition a secret from your family. And you don’t have to pressure yourself into wearing a smile every day. If explained properly, even kids as young as 5 can be told that their parent has a mental health condition. There’s nothing shameful about depression; it’s an illness that at times is biological in origin. What’s important is that you tell your children that (1) your depression is not their fault, and (2) you’re doing what you can towards recovery. In fact, being open about your emotional state can encourage your children to also be open with their own feelings of sadness.

Understand how your depression affects your parenting role. Identify the specific ways depression affects you as a parent --- and come up with ways to minimize the impact of your illness on your family. Does depression make you irritable every time you help your child with homework? Then perhaps it’s best to give the tutoring duties to your spouse or eldest child. Do you find yourself crippled by crying spells during the day? Then explain to your family that you need privacy to cry, but your crying doesn’t necessarily mean that something is not right at home. Let children know what to expect; this way they don’t get blindsided by symptoms they might misinterpret.

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Get support. Hey, your family is your greatest resource in overcoming depression! Tell everyone what they can do to help you get better. Perhaps they can communicate encouragement every time you feel down. Or maybe they can help you in making a “to do” list so you don’t feel stress-out and defeated. Just be careful that you don’t use your family to regulate your mood --- that is, impose unrealistic expectations on your children when it comes to making you feel better. The responsibility for your recovery lies on you and you alone --- see a mental health professional, counter thoughts that maintain your depression, employ some relaxation exercises. But this doesn’t mean your family can’t give you a “thumbs up” now and then.

Let your children tell you how your depression affects them. A characteristic of depression that makes it a difficult condition to bear is its ability to keep a person self-centered and socially isolated. Depression makes you think of only yourself: you pain, your misery and your helplessness in changing your situation. But if your family can also be open on how your depression affects them, you can be assisted in stepping out of your haze of narcissism, and out into reality. In fact, knowing that the people you love are also suffering with you may inspire you to work harder towards full recovery.

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