According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the U.S. If you have struggled with depression, know that you are not alone. It is estimated that 1 in 10 Americans struggle with depression at some point in their lives. If you are a mother, it is important to recognize that women have higher rates of depression, and are twice as likely to struggle with depression compared to men of the same age. In addition, approximately one in ten women are likely to suffer from depression after having a baby. Although the causes of depression vary, stressors such as unemployment and divorce are also likely to increase the risk for depression. If you are struggling with depression, it may be helpful for you to read additional information on depression and its treatment.
If you are a parent, and are suffering from depression, know that there are many effective steps that you can take to continue to be a great parent.
Seek professional help. Many parents reach out for help when suffering with depression, in order to remain competent with their children and their work. However, it is estimated that 80% of those suffering from depression may not be receiving effective or specific treatment. Consulting with a psychologist and a psychiatrist are probably your most powerful tools to decrease your symptoms of depression in an effective and quick way. The research suggests that a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication is perhaps the most beneficial course of treatment for depression. Treating the depression directly is likely to help your children in the short and long run, and is a central piece of continuing to be a great parent.
Ask for support from family and friends. It takes a village to raise a child; in moments of great vulnerability, including fatigue, lack of motivation, sleep difficulties, negative thoughts, and other symptoms of depression, parents may struggle to be fully present and active with their children. Reaching out to family members, other parents from the school community, friends, and colleagues for assistance in the hectic day-to-day lives of your children can relieve stress and disappointment, not just for you, but also for your children. Assistance with transportation, meals, play-dates, sleepovers, HW, and extracurricular activities will keep your children engaged, attended to, and happy. A great parent knows when to ask for or seek out support in the best interest of their children.
Hire help if you can. In the throes of depression, it may be very difficult to have the energy and motivation to go to work, perform well, transport the kids, take care of the house chores, cook, etc. With depression, it may suddenly become too much to juggle successfully and smoothly. Breakfasts may disappear, and meals may turn to snacks, grazing, and frozen dinners. Laundry may pile up and the house may turn into a mess. The kids may be late to school and extracurricular activities, and may even begin to skip some days. If the depression is severe enough and you are noticing the above, hiring help (if you can afford it), allows the house to run smoothly while you are treating the depression. Although it is a luxury, it may be essential for a short time, until you get back your energy and motivation. Keeping the home foundation solid for your children, and providing them with consistency in terms of meals, transportation, pick and drop, attendance, bed-time, etc., can serve as an enormous buffer for your children. This is because their lives remain stable and secure, and this protects them from the ups and downs of your struggles, which is exactly what children need from good parents.
Enroll your children in fun, physically active extra-curricular classes. When one is suffering from sleep difficulties, fatigue, and lethargy associated with depression, it may be difficult to find the energy to be active with children. Engaging in swimming, running, basketball, trampoline, soccer, etc., may seem daunting to the depressed parent. Enrolling your children in after-school or weekend sports may be an excellent way to ensure that your children are remaining physically active, healthy, and engaged in positive ways, which is essential for their ongoing healthy development.
Stay connected to your children through play. Even with low energy, poor sleep, and limited motivation, there are ways to stay connected to your children while coping with depression. Staying positive and present with your children is key to facilitating their development. There are many simple activities that you can engage in with your children on a daily basis that don’t take up too much planning or energy, but allow your children to feel tended to, loved, connected, and stable. For instance, reading to your children in bed is a simple, daily 20-minute activity that most kids love in the evening. Even better, you can have them read to you from their favorite books! Other easy activities involve coloring, drawing, sticker books, puzzles, board games, and cards. These quiet, low energy activities allow you to engage with your children in adaptive ways despite the struggles with depression. Children communicate, connect, express, and attach through play; if you can join their world through play while you are coping with depression, you will continue to be a great parent and help them thrive.
You are likely not alone in coping with depression as a parent. Many adults suffer from symptoms of depression, which can interfere significantly with work and parenting. Acknowledging and treating the depression is a critical step to remaining a hands-on and present parent. In addition, asking for support, hiring help, enrolling your children in extracurricular activities, and remaining engaged with your children through play, even if it is in quiet ways, can all lend themselves to continued effective and great parenting.