Denver Area Mental Health Center Shares Tips for Explaining Depression to Children

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 16.2 million adults in the U.S. have at least one episode of what is known as major depression each year. That number equates to 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that depression is one of the leading causes of disability in the U.S.

Not only does the condition affect the adults who have it, depression can also have a significant impact on the children in their life. Historically, depression was a condition that adults struggled to acknowledge and talk about even among themselves, and it was generally kept hidden as much as possible from children. What we now understand is that children sense that there is a problem even if it is not revealed to them. We also know that sharing age-appropriate information on a loved one’s depression can help children better cope with the challenges that the illness presents.

Planning is Important When Talking With Kids About Depression

Children can benefit from being educated about what depression is and how its symptoms affect their loved ones. However, it is important for parents or other caregivers to prepare for that conversation. This includes:

  • Talking with other adults first. If you plan to have a conversation with your child about depression, you should first talk with friends, loved ones or a counselor about what should be shared and how it might be received.
  • Considering who should talk with the child. It is best if information about a loved one’s mental illness comes from someone the child trusts and respects.
  • Thinking about the right place. Where will the child feel comfortable and undistracted having this talk?
  • Choosing the right time. The conversation should take place at a time after which a loved one will be available to answer follow-up questions and provide support.

Strategies for Helping a Child Understand Depression

When you talk with a child about depression, here are some things you can to do ensure that it is a positive and productive conversation:

  • Help them understand that depression is an illness that can be treated. However, explain that the treatment will take time.
  • Emphasize that depression is not something the child or the loved one with the condition should feel guilty or embarrassed about. Many families have been touched in some way by depression, so other people can surely relate.
  • Let them know that depression can cause a person to say or do things they wouldn’t say or do when they are well.
  • Be sure they understand that their loved one’s depression is in no way caused by the child.
  • Encourage them to ask any questions they have about depression and to be open about how the loved one’s condition is making them feel.
  • Reassure them that there are many adults in their life—family members, relatives, counselors at school, etc.—who will support them as their loved one works through the process of getting well.

The First Conversation Should Not be the Last

It often takes time for a child to process what they learn about depression. It is important that you check in with them periodically to see if they have questions or concerns as the implications of their loved one’s diagnosis become clearer to them. It is also important that while you explain the serious nature of depression, you also encourage an upbeat outlook on treatment and focus on the person’s future health and happiness.

How a Mental Health Center Can Help

October is a month in which there are a number of observances to draw attention to the challenges of mental illness, including Mental Illness Awareness Week, National Depression Screening Day and World Mental Health Day. This makes it a great time to talk with a child about depression, as you can point to all the work being done to help adults and kids achieve better mental health.

At Community Reach Center, our trained counselors can help parents and other caregivers understand the best way to have a conversation with a child about depression. We can also participate in that conversation or provide follow-up support. Visit communityreachcenter.org or by call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for more information. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.