Depression is a buzz term flying around our culture – it’s a mental illness, it’s a sickness, it’s a disability – and while there are good intentions in bringing the concept of depression to the mainstream, no one can describe what it is exactly unless they have experienced it.
And everyone experiences it differently, especially mothers.
What is Depression?
Before delving into what depression is like for a mother, it is important to unpack the differences between depression and sadness. This is a crucial distinction, since some who are depressed and think they are just sad may not get the help they need while those who are sad and label it as depression may overreact to the emotion.
That’s what sadness is – an emotion. We all feel it and its presence is perfectly normal. In an article written for Psychology Today, Dr. Guy Winch describes sadness as a response to an event. He says, “In other words, we tend to feel sad about something” and when that something changes, so does the emotion attached to it.
Alternatively, he explains that depression is feeling sad about everything. Depression does not require an emotional trigger. Depression taints the lives of those who suffer making them feel insignificant, unmotivated and joyless.
Depression and Motherhood
When it comes to depression and motherhood, the depression does not simply exist in a vacuum. It exists in the context of family life – taking care of a household, financial responsibilities and, most importantly, taking care of children. What I mean is, you can’t separate depression and motherhood. The two are intertwined so tightly that aspects of one will directly affect the other.
The symptoms of depression are convoluted and the degree of one can affect the degree of another. Depression can cause you to feel tired all the time, which can in turn make you irritable and impatient. This irritably and impatience will bleed into your role as a mother and may affect your relationship with your children. Conversely, the innate frustrations of being a mother may augment the symptoms of depression.
The Effects on the Children
Having depression as a mother will affect your children. Children of mothers who are chronically depressed are more likely to develop behavioral or emotional issues. Keep in mind that this is compared to mothers who are not chronically depressed.
Your bad moods will rub off on them. Your irritability will affect them. They may have to try harder to get your attention – and this will likely be in negative ways. They may withdraw as they see you withdraw.
You can help your children by having open and clear conversations about your depression with them. Be sure to use language and terms that are appropriate for their age. Here are some tips for discussing depression with your children:
- Tell them it’s like being sick. Depression is an illness, so explain that you are sick. You can tell them your heart or brain is sick and explain how that makes you act the way you do.
- Tell them it’s invisible. They’re likely going to be looking for the symptoms of illness they are used to seeing – coughing, runny nose, etc. – so simply explaining that you are ill may be confusing to them.
- Tell them it’s not their fault. Children will reach an age where they may begin to assign blame to themselves for your depression. Make sure it is clearly understood that your depression has absolutely nothing to do with them.
- Tell them you are working on getting better. Explain how your medications and treatments work. Show them what you are doing to overcome your depression.
The best thing you can do for yourself, your children and your family if you are suffering from depression is to seek help. Depression is not an illness that you can just ride out until it’s over. That’s the pitfall of depression – it’s never over because the hopelessness of depression ensures that it is never is over.
Apart from medical intervention, you can make small changes in your life to help aid in the healing. As much as your brain does not want you to, there’s something wholly therapeutic about walking or exercise in general. A change in diet from processed unhealthy foods to healthy whole foods can make a big impact on depression as well.
But nothing is going to change until you want it to. Taking the first step is hard, I know – I’ve been there. I’ve been on anti-depressant medication for the last 4 out of 5 years of my daughter’s life and the peace and calm it has brought into our lives is phenomenal. Maybe medication is not your answer, but there is something out there that will help.
Go find it. 🙂