It's not just adults that can become depressed
Just over three years ago my husband and I separated, we had two daughters together and had been married for almost 20 years. My oldest daughter decided she wanted to stay with her dad in Scotland, and my younger daughter, then 7 years old, lived with me. I relocated with my work to Leicester and a year or so later, I met my current partner Chris with whom we live. Everything was going great until a month or so ago. My daughter had just started high school, joined a cheerleading group, goes roller skating, attends a weekly youth club, is learning to play the flute and always gets involved in activities in school. Each evening over dinner, we would discuss how her day went and she always seemed happy, she had the usual tween outburst, but I put that down to her being at "that awkward stage."
A bolt out of the blue
One Friday morning, I received a telephone call from her form tutor at school saying that he was very concerned about her behaviour and attitude at school. It transpired that she was not doing much work in class, becoming agressive with her friends and not paying attention in lessons. It was totally out of character and I was very concerned about her as her work was not of the standard it had been. Normally she was very bright and loved doing her school work. I couldn't believe that we were talking about the same child, and even asked him if there had been some sort of mix up. I thanked him for bringing the matter to my attention and left it that I would speak to her over the weekend and try to get to the root of the problem.
Parenting a depressed child
After picking her up from school, we sat down and I brought up the subject of school very delicately. At first she denied that there was a problem and insisted that there was nothing wrong. Then she broke down in tears and told me that she felt angry, sad, disappointed, alone, confused and was very tearful. We spoke for many hours and I let her open up to me. This was when I first realised that my child was depressed. It emerged that her dad was the cause of her sadness. She felt like she couldn't cope with anymore disappointment and said that she didn't like feeling angry all the time but couldn't stop the feelings. Her dad and I didn't part very amicably but she knows that she can telephone him and her sister anytime.
Although there are 350 miles between us, I make the effort to try and drive up 3 or 4 times a year. He rarely visits her and promises her that he will drive down to see her and then cancels at the last minute. I speak to my older daughter several times a week - she is nearly 17 now. It hurts me too that I don't get to see her much, but she is settled in college and has her part time job. My younger daughter now 10 misses her desperately and this is having a massive impact on her life.
I feel so guilty that I didn't recognise the signs that my daughter was so unhappy in her mind. A lot of the problems are outwith my control. I never came from a "broken" home, so I can't even imagine how she must feel having to be separated from her dad and her sister. Talking seemed to help her a lot and she said that she felt a huge weight had been lifted from her, although she did say that she is quite sad in her head sometimes.
Signs of depression
Depression can manifest itself in many ways and these are just some of them:
Loss of appetite/change in eating habits
Crying or becoming very tearful (often at very minor things)
Sudden change in behaviour that is out of character
Wanting to spend time on their own
Having trouble sleeping or restless nights
Lack of interest
Withdrawal from family or friends
Feelings of guilt
Lack of energy
Helping a depressed child
Unlike adults, who can visit the doctor, children rely on adults to get the help that they need. Your child will look to you for the answers. These are some of the techniques that can help your child:
- Ensure that they know that you are always there for them.
- Let them talk openly and honestly about their feelings one to one. Don't interrupt them or put words in their mouth.
- Work with teachers and let the school know the situation. If the school know what is going on, they can help in the way they interact which can help build the child's confidence and self-esteem.
- Let the rest of the family know the situation, as this will affect how they are around your child.
- Be patient and understanding.
- If you feel that your child is severely depressed, speak to your doctor about counselling as they may open up more to someone who is not too close to them.
- Try to remove any unnecessary stress that is within your control.
- If you feel guilty or saddened by your child's depression, don't let it show as they will then start to feel guilty and blame themselves for making you sad.
- Try to take time out doing something that will distract them for a few hours at a time. Distractions aren't a cure, but can help take your child's mind off their problems, albeit temporarily.
How I helped my child with depression
I talked at length with my daughter and told her to come to me at anytime and tell me how she is feeling. The school have been wonderful - I had a meeting with her form tutor and he has involved her in many tasks including being the register monitor, helper in the special needs unit and elected her as chairperson in the school's Eco committee.
I have discussed with her dad, not to make promises that he can't keep and asked him to call and speak to her more often as it shouldn't really be down to a 10 year old to keep calling her dad. I bought her a cell phone so that she can call or text her dad and sister when she wants to. The family have all been told how she is feeling and have been very patient and understanding. I have let my daughter know the dates that I will be able to drive up to Scotland next year, and she has written them down - this gives her something to look forward to and can plan for.
I spend as much one to one time with her as I can. I let her choose what she wants to do at the weekends and she enjoys our time together. She meets up with friends, and still goes to all of her clubs. Another idea is to buy a journal, and get your child to write down each day how they are feeling and what has happened to make them feel like this.
Sometimes a kiss and cuddle is all that is required to make them feel special and loved. Children just need to know that you are there for them and are on their side. I'm glad to say that for the past couple of weeks, there has been a noticeable improvement both at home and at school. I'm just taking each day as it comes, and hoping for a happy ending.