What Your Depression Is Doing To You And Your Kids

November 7, 2014  |  

Depression is one of the most challenging illnesses to manage. I say that because it’s so hard to diagnose, and it’s even harder to develop the appropriate plan of treatment for it. Much of what doctors know about depression is based on assumptions. MRIs reveal that the brain of a depressed person looks different than the brain of someone who is not depressed, but those images still don’t reveal why the depression is present.

Men and women both suffer from depression, although it is more prevalent among women.  Moms are often trying to juggle raising the kids with housework and other responsibilities.  Sometimes there is guilt because they don’t think they are doing a great job, and then doubt starts to set in, leaving these moms in a dark place.  Unfortunately, because depression is a condition that requires a whole lot of self-disclosure, many people suffer in silence.  Mothers and fathers everywhere are struggling to make it through the day – to give their children what they need – because it hurts so much.  They figure it’s just a rough patch and they can shake things off in a couple of weeks, but often times a few weeks of the “blues” turns into a debilitating condition that can wreak havoc on someone’s life before they even realize what is going on.

When depression goes untreated, it often worsens. I know this because my mother suffers from depression.  In retrospect, she believes she’s been depressed for most of her adult life.  The problem is, she always tried to manage it on her own. A few years ago, though, the depression got so bad that she realized managing it on her own was no longer an option.  So, after decades of battling this beast and letting it damage her life, she began to seek help in an effort to turn things around.

What I know for sure about your depression is that it’s relentless and once it gets a hold of someone, it doesn’t let go easily.  I also know that no matter how strong a mom might be, untreated depression has a negative impact on their children.  It doesn’t mean that they become bad moms; not at all, because I think my mom was a good mom.  But, I also feel like she was sad sometimes.  I feel like she never did anything for herself.  I feel like she made her life revolve around us, because dealing with anyone else in the world had proven to be too painful.  This is why she had such a hard time when we grew up and moved out.  She spent years living in a world where we were her only joy.

My mom became a master at “faking it” during our childhood, so her depression didn’t have a major impact on me as a child. She seemed happy when she was with us.  We went to amusement parks during the summer, she had parties for us on our birthdays, she baked cookies for Christmas, and she even went on a few school trips.  I had a pretty good childhood; she did her very best. But as an adult I see things a little differently than I did as a child.  I realize that my mom rarely went to visit friends and family with us.  We stayed at home a lot.  And when I think about things, I also remember my mom spending a great deal of time in her bedroom.  It was her safe place.  It all seemed normal because I had nothing else to compare it to.

When I was 5, my mom threw a birthday party for me.  She also got into an argument with my grandmother that day.  My grandmother lived with us and their arguments were a regular thing.  Later that day, my mom was injured and rushed to the ER.  She somehow tipped over a candle in her bedroom that landed on her and burned her back very badly.  She was in the hospital for quite some time. As a child, I just assumed it was a simple accident because that is what I was told.  As I got older, I began to piece things together and realized that my mom tipped over that candle and suffered those severe burns on her back because she was drunk.  She was drinking on her daughter’s fifth birthday because her own mother had pushed her to the edge.  She needed something to help her cope.

When you are a child, if your mom is good at faking it, it may not affect your childhood much.  You might make it through and become a fully functional adult.  I consider myself one of the lucky ones, though.  My mom’s occasional drinking, as a way of coping, could have easily become an addiction, but it didn’t.  My mom’s desire to keep to herself could have led her to raise kids with socialization issues, but fortunately we turned out just fine.  Her sadness could have seeped into our souls, but by the grace of God it did not.

I’m grateful for what her experience has taught me about mental health.  I often find myself reflecting on how our relationship informs what I do to take care of myself.  In addition to my mother, my grandmother and great-grandmother suffered from depression. Certainly this family history leaves me slightly nervous about my mental health, but it has also given me the determination I need to always put myself first, in an effort to break the cycle.  I am so grateful for that because clinical depression has never had a hold on me.  I have had a few rough patches in my life, but they have always been temporary.  Through family challenges, feelings of failure, and even the loss of a pregnancy in the second trimester, I have always been able to embrace the pain, cope with it, and slowly recover from it — eventually finding myself in a happy place again.  The ability to do that is not something I take for granted.

It is so important to take care of our mental health; it is important to put ourselves first.  Depression can often be managed through therapy, but there may be a need for medication as well. If you have been sad for several weeks and you realize that you can’t shake the feeling this time, please seek help.

There are so many stigmas in the black community about seeking help from mental health professionals, but honestly, that help can save your life.  I know it’s easy to feel like you will survive this without anyone’s help, but life shouldn’t be about just surviving.  It should be about thriving and living with joy.  When depression takes over, your kids lose a part of you that they will never get back.  You owe your children, and yourself, a life full of hope and joy. You deserve that much.

To learn more about depression, visit the National Institute of Mental Health
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline  


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