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Depression and Family: Depression Affects the Whole Family

Depression affects the whole family. Here’s advice for both parents and teenagers who are dealing with depression.

Dealing With Family Depression:

Parental Depression

For a parent with depression, everyday activities may be too much to bear. The parent might not be able to manage the physical and emotional demands of both their and their children’s care. Depression symptoms—withdrawing from loved ones, a sense of helplessness and increased anxiety—can compound the feelings of worthlessness and guilt that a mother (or father) may feel in dealing with their children. This guilt may worsen the parent’s depression. Recently, there’s more emphasis on identifying and treating depression.

Don’t keep the parent’s depression a secret. Instead, communicate openly with the family to increase awareness and understanding and to clarify that the parent’s depression is not the teenager’s fault. Many teenagers are resilient enough to navigate through a tough period. Working together to discuss coping strategies strengthens and empowers the whole family. As the mother with depression alluded to in her writing, children “don’t fall apart”. And in between episodes, parents can establish a caring and supportive parent-child relationship. Then they can rely on sufficient resources to help teenagers and other children through subsequent depression periods.

Teen Depression

An adolescent with depression also affects the whole family. Teenagers manifest depression in many different ways, including irritability, tears, and anger. They may also have physical complaints, such as stomachaches and headaches. Commonly, teenagers experience changes in sleep and appetite patterns.

Parents may feel guilty for not being able to help their teenager. This loss of control can lead to panic as parents attempt to decipher whether their teenager’s behaviors— like, cutting—signify a worsening of the depression.

At the very time, the parent is tracking the child’s behaviors, the child is withdrawing from the family unit. Families need to openly discuss their feelings and concerns to alleviate the isolation felt by both the teen and the parent. When supporting someone with depression, establish a non-threatening environment in which the teenager can express his feelings, thereby building a sense of trust and support.

Parents might need to enlist a therapist or psychiatrist to help guide them through this process and alert them about any safety concerns. It’s also a good idea for parents to manage their own emotions by talking to a friend or a therapist during this difficult time.

Treatment for the depressed teen or parent begins with a psychiatric assessment. From here, the psychiatrist can recommend medication, therapy or both. Treatment should be holistic, addressing the interactions between each family member, and, if appropriate, including the family in the treatment. Ultimately, it’s important for family members, either together or individually, to seek help to manage their frustration, anxiety and sadness in supporting their loved one. Through family support, each person with depression will have the ultimate chance of remission.

Ramiz Audi is a child and adolescent Psychiatrist at University Hospitals in Cleveland Ohio.

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