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4 ways to help your child who’s depressed

It’s so painful to see your child down and quiet. You try your best to cheer them up, to make them smile, and sometimes, they may even smile, but you know that it’s not real. You know them inside out. They can’t hide anything from you, so why won’t they let you in? The pain you feel seems unbearable. Why can’t they just be happy? Here are 4 things that will help:

1. Stop playing the blame game

With tears in her eyes, a mother once told me about her daughter who was in a terrible state. She was a victim of bullying, was self-harming, felt suicidal, and had many other issues. And she blamed herself for everything because her daughter had been a witness of the many arguments between her and her husband. The child had been so affected by it all, that she went into her shell from the age of two and remained that way until early adulthood. The guilt this mother felt was eating at her day by day.

My mother also felt very guilty when I was depressed. My situation was different though. I had a great family, I couldn’t have asked for better parents, I had all the love and attention in the world and everything else I needed but I still got depressed because of inner issues I was going through.

Whether you ‘contributed’ to your child’s delicate mental state or not, guilt will get you nowhere. In fact, you run the risk of getting depressed yourself. There is no point in beating yourself up. How is that going to help you or your child? These negative feelings will only serve to zap away your energy. Instead, you need to put all your energy into thinking straight and helping your child to recover, because full recovery IS possible. So any time the guilty feelings try to take you over, be tough and say ‘NO, this isn’t going to help! My child WILL be happy! I’m going to help him/her.’

2. Listen to them

Find a good time to sit down and talk to your child with no distractions. Let them talk and avoid jumping in with advice or else you run the risk of them thinking you don’t understand. Let them express themselves in their own way about what they are feeling, about the things that may be happening at home with the family, or at school. Be prepared to address those issues, whether it be getting help for any family problems, or dealing with any situations at school. If you child doesn’t want to open up, be patient. Sit with them and tell them that you love them no matter what and that they are not alone, and when they’re ready to talk, you’re there for them.

3. Don’t take it personally

When I was depressed, I pushed my parents away. It wasn’t because I didn’t love them or want them in my life anymore. I was just feeling so bad, that I didn’t want them to ‘catch’ what I was feeling. So if your child seems to be pushing you away, don’t take it personally. Be encouraging. It might even look like they are just being lazy or difficult but these are some of the symptoms of depression, so still encourage them, give compliments, and highlight the positive things about them.

4. Consider outside help

You haven’t failed as a parent if your child doesn’t recover with your help only. Some situations are more deeply-rooted and need more specialised help. One of the first things my parents did was take me to the doctor where I was assigned for counselling. Although the counselling didn’t do it for me, there was something that did and you can read my full story here.

And to show you that there is always hope, the mother and daughter I spoke about before, are making good progress. The daughter joined this Youth Group, the mother got support for herself too and things are getting better. Mum put her energy into finding solutions instead of beating herself up.
Now THAT’S progress. Don’t give up darlings. Things CAN change around.

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