How I talked about depression with my kids
By Nina Mitchell
I have depression …
Three little words that have changed the course of my life forever.
Three little words that need to be hidden from the world.
Three little words that parents fear to mention to their children.
I have depression – three little words that I will readily admit apply to me. I have depression. It’s not who I am. It doesn’t define me. They’re just words, yet why are so many people frightened and ashamed to say them aloud to the people they love?
Depression is an illness just like many others. Nobody would think twice about saying I have diabetes or I have asthma. Depression is not something that should be hidden away. It’s a common ailment that we need to talk about, even with our children (or should I say, especially with our children!)
My journey with depression over the last five years has been incredibly tough. It’s taken my job. It’s stolen my confidence. It’s shattered my self-esteem and left me feeling alone. But it hasn’t left me feeling unloved. My family has been there beside me every step of the way. The last couple of years have not been in vain. My boys are the reason I’m now fighting back because I don’t want depression to be my legacy. My family have been there for me and now it’s my turn to be there for them.
I learnt very early in the piece that my depression affected each and every member of my family. It was visible and obvious to those who spent time with me. And it left my children wondering what exactly was going on. Because of an unusual presentation of symptoms, I’ve never been able to hide what I was experiencing even though that was what society was telling me was expected. The actions of people around me made me feel like I should be ashamed and hidden from sight. I never believed this.
From the word go I would tell my children what was going on. I’d explain to them how I felt and what I was experiencing. We’d talk about the many hospital visits and the different treatments I was trialling. Nothing was off limits to them. I wanted to normalise the illness because after all, they were living it with me.
I just assumed that everyone spoke to their children about their illnesses. I was surprised when I learnt from fellow patients in hospital that this was something that people kept from their family, their friends and most especially their work colleagues. I didn’t understand the secrecy. This was an illness out of my control so why should I feel ashamed?
Children know when something is wrong. They may not know what is wrong, but they realise that everything is not how it used to be. Some may even blame themselves.
The biggest thing I wanted my sons to know was that they were not responsible for how I was feeling. It wasn’t something that they had done wrong. I wanted them to know how much I loved them and how much they helped me during my darkest days. One of them would see me distressed and without saying a word would give me a hug, kiss me on the cheek and then leave me alone. Those kisses, their affection and their understanding were more powerful than the strongest anti-depressants.
I believe that children are never too young to learn about depression. It’s all around them.
I have depression. It’s just three little words.
Nina is a qualified teacher and mother of three sons. As a result of my personal experience with depression I have written and self-published a book called “My Mum has Depression”. It is intended to be a resource for adults to begin the conversation with children about depression. In the book, a child recalls how his mother explains what depression feels like for her. He then briefly describes ways that he can help her feel better.
Nina self-published this fabulous book and you can buy it from her website http://www.nutsaboutnina.com.au/buy-now.html (scroll down the page on Nina’s website to see the link to buy)