How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Depression Without Completely F*@king Them Up
1. Don’t fool yourself, your children see your struggle. Their lives basically depend on you so, while they may not care about your feelings, they are in fact hyper aware of them.
2. Talk about your depression from a place of neutrality, it’s neither good or bad, it’s simply depression. Most children haven’t had to consider depression and won’t have opinions and emotions attached to it. This is important: If you present your depression as sad and scary, they will register it as sad and scary and, almost immediately, they will be sad and scared.
3. Describe depression as a medical condition with symptoms that are sometimes hard to see. Avoid words that might be confusing, words like “sick” and “broken.”
4. When they ask how you got it, tell them you were probably born with it and explain that things like stress and exhaustion sometimes make it worse.
5. Don’t blame your depression on you kids or their behavior because (a) that’s cruel and (b) it’s not true. I realize it feels true, but it’s definitely not true.
6. Don’t over share. Keep the conversation age appropriate. Tell them your depression is difficult, tell them you work at it every day but do not tell them about that time you almost killed yourself because you thought Ecstasy and Cabernet would solve it. That will traumatize them and, for the record, the notion that Ecstasy and Cabernet will solve depression is not true. I realize it feels true, but it’s definitely not true.
7. Your older kids have no doubt seen some version of “TV depression” and may have even learned about it in Health Class. Ask them what they know and clarify the misinformation.
8. If they ask if you’re going to die from depression, say no. This isn’t one of those moments where you need to level with your kids or recite statistics. The thought of losing you will create an untamable anxiety. So say, “No.”
9. Tell your kids that depression is totally treatable and list the things you do to treat yours. If you don’t have a list of things you do, call me because you need one.
10. If they wanna know how they can help, don’t tell them to behave or be quiet. Tell them they are helping just by being part of your life. No matter how shitty, privileged or ungrateful your kids are, their very existence anchors you to the world.
11. But don’t tell them their love is saving your life because (a) that’s a lot of pressure to put on anyone, namely a kid and (b) next time they hate you (and there will be a next time) they will panic.
12. Don’t drag the conversation out, keep it simple. End with, “Do you have any questions you want to ask me?” Also let them know it’s okay to come back for more information.
13. If your kids ask if they will have depression someday, tell the truth, tell them you don’t know but quickly follow that with, “If ever you do get depression, I will be right by your side.”
14. Don’t ask your kids to keep your depression a secret. If you’re worried about privacy, tell them we only talk about our medical issues with family and people we love.
15. If you still think you might fuck this up, call a professional for help.
Bonus Tip – Grownups always want to know, “Is it okay for my children to see me depressed or crying?” The answer is yes. The caveat is that you need to reassure them in the moment that you’re okay, crying is normal and your feelings have nothing to do with them.