07 August 2006

You and your depressed parent

Dealing with a depressed mother or father can be difficult. Here are tips to help you through this difficult time.

Dealing with a depressed mother or father can be difficult. If one does not understand depression, it could eventually make you, or another member of the family, feel very despondent, insecure, and perhaps even depressed as well.

According to Cape Support for Mental Health, depression is a very common condition, which affects more women than men (2:1). Statistics have shown that as many as one in five women will experience a bout of depression at any given time.

Past problems may be the cause
Many parents who become depressed only get diagnosed after the age of 40. The condition is more likely to affect those who have been socially rejected in the past (or at present), who have had no close interpersonal relationships, are divorced or separated, or have been through some other form of family trauma.

Adolescence is a time of insecurity and mood swings for many teens. This can make it even harder for teens to cope with a parent who is depressed. The following tips could help:

  • Even though it may seem as if you’re going through a tough time yourself, it is a very good idea to be affectionate towards your depressed parent. Give them reassurance that you care for them, and that he/she is not a bad person.
  • Accept that you might not get the same response in return, but do not take this personally. It is not because they do not want to respond, but because depression results in many difficulties, including lack of energy, concentration, and a feeling of apathy. “A parent can become very unexpressive when they are depressed. The child should not take this personally,” says Cape Town psychologist, Ilse Terblanche.
  • Learn as much as you can about depression and inform the rest of your family members about it.
  • Do not be ashamed. Speak to a school counsellor or a trustworthy friend or family member. Tell them how you feel. It is imperative to look after yourself and your own emotions as well. “It is quite common for a teen to feel miserable when there is a parent depressed in the household,” says Terblanche.
  • Go about your life as normal, as you did before your parent starting feeling depressed. This is a good way to look after your own well-being. Do not allow yourself to be swamped by your parent’s illness, and remember that you are not reponsible for it.
  • Do your best to behave in the best possible way. You do not want to add more heartache or problems to the household during this time. Besides that, it is not fair to your parents, who need as much support as possible.
  • Include your parents in as many activities as possible, such as watching your favourite television programme, washing the dog, or eating around the table as a family. Even if your offer is declined, you are at least taking an interest in their well-being.

Know the signs
In order to understand your parent’s condition, you should be aware of what can happen to them during this time. Depressed people often experience the following:

  • feeling of sadness
  • agitation
  • tearfulness
  • lack of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • changes in appetite
  • erratic sleeping patterns or insomnia, and lack of energy
  • a feeling of worthlessness and/or guilt
  • thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • becoming socially withdrawn

(Matthew Louw, Health24, August 2006)


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