Everyone has awful days, sad days, and even terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, but depression is a mental illness classified as persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or lack of interest. The pandemic saw an uptick in this disorder—the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says 21 million adults or 8.4% of the U.S. population had a depressive episode in 2020. Having depression can be depleting and difficult to manage all on its own, so dealing with depression while also caring for children can be especially daunting. Fortunately, there are many resources, experts, and support systems that can help.
What are the signs of depression?
Look out for signs of depression. If you have symptoms for more than a couple weeks, reach out to your healthcare provider. “Depression is the most common mental disorder and one of the most treatable,” says Dr. Stephanie Marcello, chief psychologist of Rutgers University behavioral health care. “Don’t keep any of these signs or symptoms a secret.”
Common symptoms include:
- Sleep changes
- Appetite changes
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of energy
- Hopelessness or guilt
- Loss of motivation
- Aches and pain
- Suicidal ideation
If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call a suicide hotline like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately.
How to find support when parenting with depression
Marcello says that “people who suffer with depression and don’t seek support suffer needlessly.” The first place to seek support is from your partner, family, or friends. “We know that social isolation increases a person’s risk for depression,” she says. However, beware any toxic friendships because “we also know that friendships that focus too much on discussing problems can actually increase symptoms of depression.”
The next step in parenting with depression is to reach out to your healthcare provider. They may recommend medication, therapy, or a combination of both. “A combination of therapy and antidepressant medication has been shown to be the most effective,” Marcello says. “Therapy can help a person pinpoint the life problems contributing to their depression and which aspects of those problems they may be able to solve or improve.”
You may be able to build your community and join support groups or find friends and family who are particularly good supports for you as you manage your depression.
Build in time for rest and recovery
Just like any illness, depression requires rest and recovery time. Even though it’s hard to take time for yourself when you’re parenting, you need adequate sleep, exercise, nutrition, and care during this time more than ever.
Keep in mind that this recovery might also feel like a bit of a recovery back to the person you truly are, a recovery back to yourself. Marcello says, “when you are feeling depressed, you often don’t feel like yourself.” So it’s essential to do activities you enjoy, even if you feel like isolating.
Look out for signs your children are affected
Depression can be caused by a variety of factors, one of which is genetics. Marcello suggests, “if a parent or caregiver knows they are dealing with depression, they may want to make sure the children get screened and evaluated.” This is particularly important, she says, with teenagers because “teenagers who experience growing up with a parent dealing with depression tend to have more frequent and severe depressive episodes as young adults than those with parents who are not managing depression.” She suggests reaching out to your family doctor, pediatrician, or school if you have concerns.
While depression may occur more in teenagers, young children may show signs of worry or sadness when their parents aren’t feeling well, too. The Child Mind Institute suggests, “Talking to kids about your depression in a clear, age-appropriate way,” such as telling a young child you have a condition that makes you tired and naming your depression when talking to an older child. They suggest telling your children that you are being cared for by a doctor.
It’s not your fault
Parent and author Jenny Lawson says it best: “Depression lies.” Depression will tell you your mental illness is your fault and that your children will suffer because of it. Not so. Seeing a parent as a human being who suffers, gets help, and works toward treatment models resilience and honesty. They will be more likely to ask for help and work toward solving their own problems. By parenting with depression, you are showing your child that you love and take care of yourself, and that you love and will take care of your children, too.