Living with untreated depression is a horrible thing. Every day is full of hopelessness and despair. Life can seem unbearable. Imagine, then, how untreated depression in parents can affect their children.
Parenting is a 24/7 job. It’s all about modeling good behavior, paying attention, educating and loving our children. Doing these things while depressed can seem almost impossible. As a result, untreated depression can have a huge negative affect on children.
Here I will share 5 ways that untreated depression in parents affects their children and how to best protect your kids during dark times.
#1 – Depression is scary.
For a child depression in a parent is very scary. A child just cannot comprehend why their parent is acting the way that they are.
When depressed, parents can, and do, act a variety of ways – sad, angry, tired, anxious, ambivalent, indifferent, insecure, aggressive. As a result, if those behaviors show up regularly, children can start acting anxious, insecure and aggressive themselves.
#2 – Kids blame themselves.
When my daughter was 15 I shared with her that I had just been diagnosed with depression but that I had probably suffered from it for years.
Her reaction? ‘I am so glad to know that it wasn’t my fault.’
Children are so innocent, and so self-centered, and as a result they believe that anything that happens in the world is a result of them and their actions. Because of this a child can easily internalize their parents depressed feelings and blame themselves for the behaviors.
#3 – Their parent isn’t parenting.
When a parent is suffering from untreated depression they just can’t be the parent that they usually are or want to be.
If a parent is so sad that she must take to her bed for days, or if the depression has made him particularly cranky and impatient, the child will suffer.
If her mom can’t get out of bed to make her dinner then she will have to fend for herself. If her dad is always yelling at her she will feel bad about herself and take to her room.
Parents need to be parents and it’s difficult to be so when they are suffering from untreated depression. And kids need their parents to be parents.
#4 – Their mom and dad don’t seem to like each other.
One of the biggest side effects of untreated depression is relationship instability.
When one partner is depressed the other often struggles to understand what is happening, why their partner can’t just snap out of it. This feeling of helplessness can lead to anger and frustration which in turn interferes with relationship health.
And there is nothing scarier for a child than having her parents not get along. The parental unit is what provides the foundation for a child’s growth. If that is regularly unstable the results can be devastating and permanent.
#5 – They don’t feel safe at home.
Unfortunately, when one suffers from untreated depression productivity can suffer. As a result one’s home can get dirty, meals don’t get made, laundry doesn’t get done, safety standards don’t get met.
As a result, many children of parents living with untreated depression are neglected in some way which forces them to either suffer needlessly or grow up very quickly because they have to take care of themselves from an early age.
How unfair is that?
So, how can you protect your kids during dark times?
#1 – Be honest with them.
If kids, or adults, know what is going on then they are more likely able to deal with it.
Tell your kids if you or your partner is suffering from depression. Explain to them that mommy’s sadness or daddy’s anger is the result of something that they can’t control. Ask them if they have any questions and be willing to answer them.
Being honest will allow your kids to understand, to some degree, what is going on which will alleviate some of their anxiety around the situation.
#2- Explain that it’s not their fault.
More than anything a child needs to hear from his or her parent that the behaviors they are experiencing aren’t their fault.
Understanding that their parents’ instability isn’t a result of their actions will take a considerable weight off of a child’s shoulders. And that is the very important: to not let your child blame themselves for your troubles.
#3 – Remove yourself from the situation.
If you are depressed, make every effort to not overexpose your kids to your moods. When you are depressed, if you are able, send your kids to a friend’s house or have your spouse take them out for the afternoon.
Constant exposure to a parent who is suffering from untreated depression can have a significant negative effect on kids. Even a short break from the moodiness can be therapeutic.
#4 – Get help around the house.
If meals aren’t getting made or the house isn’t getting cleaned consider getting someone in to help.
Children need to be taken care of and, if you can’t do it, let someone else. Your kids will thank you someday.
#5 – Seek professional psychiatric help.
The best way to protect your kids during dark times is to get help!
If depression goes on untreated it just gets worse. Early intervention can greatly reduce the effects of depression in a parent on a child.
See your primary care physician immediately. They will help you get treatment right away so that you can protect your kids.
Untreated depression in parents can affect children in a big way.
Kids of parents with untreated depression often suffer from low self-esteem, insecurity and anxiety and often are forced to grow up way too fast.
It is essential that you make an effort to protect your child if you or your partner suffers from untreated depression. Be honest with them, make sure their needs are taken care of and seek help as soon as possible.
They are your children. They deserve the best, whether you are depressed or not.
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.