A model for talking to young kids about depression.

Talking to Kids About Depression

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Categories Education, Medical, Mental Health, Mommy Issues, Perspective, School-AgeTags , ,

My 6-year-olds love going through the drive through pharmacy. They’re fascinated by the hardware that allows me and the pharmacist to send clipboards, debit cards and medications back and forth without my having to leave the driver’s seat of my car. They never tire of the box magically closing just before it disappears into the cavern above our heads.

While we were waiting for my refills and debit card yesterday, M wanted to know what the medicine was for. I told her I’d explain on the way home. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts.

I have clinical depression.

I didn’t say I was depressed. I’m not depressed. My emotional and mood responses to the challenges in my life are proportional and appropriate. I see the little joys in my day. My temper is completely under control. I don’t find myself needing to examine my every thought to determine whether it’s a real one or the product of a brain that isn’t working right. It doesn’t take an all-consuming act of will to get out of bed, eat, or breathe. Not any more.

I explained to my daughter that, many years ago, I started having horrible feelings of sadness. There wasn’t a reason to be sad, at least not as sad as I felt. Some mornings, my brain would tell my body to sit up, but my body wouldn’t listen. The sadness was controlling my body. I went to a doctor and a counselor—my daughter knows about counselors because her school has two amazing ones—and tried to fix things by thinking about my feelings, talking about my feelings, understanding my feelings. It wasn’t enough. I tried all the things we practice at home to manage our feelings: deep breaths, time out, reading a book, writing about our feelings, asking for help. It just wasn’t enough.

Finally, my doctor told me that I have an illness called “depression.” Everyone’s brain has chemicals in it, just like all other parts of the body, to make sure it works right. For some reason we don’t understand, some of my brain’s chemicals were missing. (I figured that 6 was a little young to go into serotonin reuptake. “Missing chemicals” would have to do.) The doctor recommended that I take medicine to help. I didn’t want to take medicine to put new chemicals in my brain. That sounded scary to me.

“This is a scary story!” my daughter interjected.

I asked if she wanted me to stop. She wanted to hear the ending, so I continued.

I started taking the medicine. After a few months, I felt better. My body started listening to my brain, and I felt happy. When I did feel sad, there was a reason, and fixing the reason fixed the sadness. My brain was all better.

When I decided to have babies, I didn’t want those medicines in their bodies. Their brains probably would never need them, and it’s not a good idea to have medicine in your body that you don’t need. With a doctor’s help, I stopped taking my medicines, and I still felt fine.

I had my beautiful little girls. (M smiled at that.) For four years, I felt just fine. Then, one day, the bad sadness came back. I recognized it right away this time. I went back to the doctor, and told them that I had depression and that it was making me feel sick again. He asked me to try the medicines that had worked before, and they worked again.

“So if you don’t take your medicine, you’ll be sick?” M asked.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I’ll probably just be the same that I always am, but this sickness, depression, might come back and make my brain sick again. Since the medicine helps make sure that I stay healthy in my brain, I keep taking it. There may be a good reason to stop taking it some day and be careful about watching my brain health, but for now, I think I should keep taking it.”

“Okay,” she said. And that was that.

J looked up from the book she was reading. “Did you say something about being sick?”

I told her we’d talk about it another time.

Twinkly TuesdayWhen the Dust Settles

Sadia is a divorced mother of precocious 6-year-old identical twin girls. She works in higher education information technology and has her depression well managed. She hopes that some day, the stigma of mental illness will go that way of cancer stigma. She believes that knowledge is power. So is compassion.
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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

16 thoughts on “Talking to Kids About Depression”

  1. I love how you talk to your girls, Sadia. I try to model the same, at an age-appropriate level. I think it’s important to present things factually so we can help our children learn to process things in a fair way. Secrecy — whether intentional or not — can breed stigma and fear, and I don’t want that for my girls.

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Sadia,
    Your daughters are so very lucky to have you. You have a pragmatic approach to life, and with that you have a beautiful ability to make the information age appropriate.
    I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, and the job that you are doing so well of teaching your young ladies about being healthy in their minds and in their bodies.
    I admire you in many ways.
    You have shown that even though our hormones can go awry, there’s ways to get around it, and function in a totally positive, healthy way.
    It’s the same as thyroid problems, diabetes, or any sort of chemicals that our bodies are supposed to produce normally, but don’t.
    Thank you for bringing to light a very common issue with nearly everyone at some point in their lives. You are an inspiration and role model to more than M & J.

  3. Sadia, Your essay brought tears to my eyes. I suffer from clinical depression, and my sons have noticed I take medicine every day. I anticipate a day when I will want to explain more to them, and your essay has provided me with an excellent model. Thank you.

  4. Don’t you wish the rest of the world would react with the same acceptance about mental illness as your daughters did? Sounds like you did an amazing job sharing with them about your struggles!

  5. Such a brave thing to talk to your children about, I honestly wish I had had the courage to do so with my kids at the time, I’m afraid, like many, I hid my own depression from them. They now know I was ill (not how bad it became though) and understand about depression, but talking to them at the time may have been easier for them to understand why their dad was like i was.

    Thanks for linking up to my mental health linky, I hope it helps get the message of awareness out a little.

  6. I love how you’ve re-told the conversation Sadia. As someone who has been unfortunate enough to experience depression and anxiety many years ago (but never say never again…), I am all too aware of how important it is to be honest and explain it as simply as we can to our little ones. When the time comes to talk to our 5 year old little bear, I’d like to have the same approach as yours. #twinklytuesday

  7. This is a very touching post. I like the way you have explained things honestly to your children in a relaxed way but giving them enough detail that they can have some understanding of it. I hope I can be as open and honest with my girls when situations like that arise. #twinklytuesday

  8. I think that you handled the situation really well. It is not easy explaining such things to children, but a simple explanation is better than sweeping it under the carpet.

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