When Your Child Struggles With Depression, Too

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with depression. Of course, when I was 8 and said things like, “I wish I would die,” I didn’t realize I had a problem. During my teen years, I lived in misery and my mother always chalked it up to “teen drama.” In fact, I was in my mid-30s before I realized I was chronically depressed.

My oldest child, much like me, has always been “dramatic” about everything. A skinned knee often resulted in an act so extraordinary that he would have been nominated for a Tony if he were on Broadway.

He became very moody when he was around 12, which everyone — family, friends, coworkers — assured me was totally “normal.” He always spent a lot of time alone but, again, I assumed he was just being a “normal” teenager.

So when he chose a college that was 800 miles from home, and shortly thereafter broke up with his girlfriend of over two years, I was slightly worried but didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to feed his dramatic behavior, but I also didn’t want to ignore comments like,”I can’t sleep at night,” “I’m trying to just get over it but I can’t.” His grades started to drop and he started to engage in behavior that just wasn’t “him.” When he came home to visit, he asked to see a doctor about it.

He knew I struggled with depression, so he talked to me quite a bit and I instantly knew it had gone much too far. He was moderately, or possibly severely depressed. He was diagnosed and treated. We talked almost daily about our feelings. I used a lot of the resources I’d learned through my therapy to help him develop coping skills. What I thought would be a disaster for our family turned out to be a great relationship builder for my son and me.

There were a lot of difficulties I faced — the main one being opening up to him too much. Because I knew the weight of depression, and because we’d always been close, some days I’d go into vivid detail about my thoughts and other family matters that were not appropriate to share with my son. I had to remind myself we weren’t peers and I was supposed to help him, not dump my emotions on him. The closeness and trust that developed as a result of our shared experience definitely outweighed any challenges that arose.

He’s much better — living the college life of last minute homework and frat parties most days. Sometimes though, I can hear the sadness creep into his voice and feel him slipping into his dark place. And so we talk about feelings and coping skills and whatever else he wants to talk about. Then I remind him to take his meds and make an appointment with his therapist.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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