It happens to the best of us. According to the World Health Organization, over 264 million people struggle with depression. Many of those individuals are parents. Although depressed people are often depicted as troubled, lonely, and underprivileged individuals, the truth is that this condition does not discriminate.
Wealthy, happy, and successful people can also suffer from this condition, especially women, who are about twice as likely as men to develop major depression. Whether you are a depressed mom yourself or a son or a daughter seeking guidance, this article is for you.
Depression & Motherhood
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 10 American women experience signs of depression. However, many depressed moms go for long periods without any treatment. Our society promotes unrealistic expectations in the minds of the new moms, who often feel guilty for having a tough time when raising their infants.
Failing to seek treatment can negatively impact these mothers and their kids. For starters, depression interferes with a mother´s ability to bond with her children. Several studies show that children with depressed moms experience less interaction and fuss and cry more often.
In addition, they show higher levels of psychological stress. Research also reveals a potential connection between a parent´s depression and the infant´s physical health. Studies by the Johns Hopkins Children´s Center (Baltimore) found that kids with asthma who had depressed moms experienced more frequent asthma symptoms.
About Separation Anxiety
Children of anxious parents are more prone to develop a separation anxiety disorder. This condition describes the struggle of being separated from their caregivers. This fear exceeds what is being expected of the infant given his/her developmental level. Symptoms of this condition can last for at least a month and cause significant distress.
What Causes Depression in Moms?
After giving birth, many women experience the commonly called baby blues, marked by mood swings, irritability, anxiety, crying, and sleeping issues. These symptoms usually disappear in two weeks and don´t require any treatment. However, if the blues persist or worsen over time, they may be suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).
Still, no one completely understands the origins of depression, although researchers believe the condition is caused by a dysfunction of the brain´s neurotransmitter system that affects appetite, sleep, and emotions.
Even though depression is defined as a constant state of malaise, lethargy, weight loss (or gain), and insomnia (or excessive sleeping), it can take on different guises, especially when it comes to mothers. Depressed moms often feel hopeless and unable to cope with daily activities. In addition, they are not interested in pretty much anything anymore.
Depressed, Stay-at-Home Moms
Not every depressed mother struggles with mental illness straight after giving birth. Some go through an existential crisis after they stop working to raise their children at home. Exhaustion can slowly turn into depression. At this stage, a black cloud may take over their thoughts. As a result, moms may end up telling themselves they are not good enough at parenting.
There is a stigma around being a stay-at-home mother. Nobody seems to talk about the consistent isolation, the feeling of loneliness, and the loss of identity that sometimes accompanies this choice, even though nearly 30% of moms decide to stay at home to become full-time caregivers. Concerns on mental health have been raised as a phenomenon, called stay-at-home mom depression, affects more than a quarter of non-working parents.
Studies suggest that stay-at-home moms report feeling sad, angry, and lonely more often. Raising children full-time entails unique, often silent challenges, and many adults are not prepared for the immense amount of change in their lives that an infant can bring. As a result, parents often need to say goodbye to the lifestyle they were used to.
In addition, moms do a lot of work they don´t get paid or congratulated for, as their effort is taken for granted. The isolation factor too can contribute to anger and depression. Some mothers may not interact with other people at all for days, which can lead to feeling sad or resentful.
How to Be a Good Mom when Depressed
In order to feel more accomplished at the end of the day, stay-at-home, depressed moms with a toddler can make a list of the tasks they have completed. Mental health professionals also recommend speaking with their partners (in case they have one) about the challenges of being full-time caregivers. Mothers should also highlight their need for recognition, understanding, and connection.
Another non-negotiable aspect is time for themselves. Personal development and continuous learning can incredibly boost happiness and well-being. Any type of group exercise or creative activity will provide the social and intellectual stimulation that women who stay at home might be lacking. Sometimes, though, only professionals can help. Moms that find themselves depressed for more than two weeks should visit a mental health expert, such as a therapist or a psychiatrist, as soon as possible.
Being exhausted or moody does not make anyone a bad mother. However, our society is not ready yet to listen to the struggles of parenting. Young mothers find themselves lost and confused, wondering why nobody else is complaining about the difficulties of raising children openly. Depressed or anxious moms that can´t find support in their environment will definitely find it in a psychotherapy facility.
How to Deal with a Depressed Mom
Knowing your role when your mother suffers from depression is not easy, but there are a few things you can do if your mom is depressed. The first one is to support her.
Do Some Research on Depression
First of all, you need to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of this condition, which can include mood swings, changes in sleep and appetite, or lack of energy. You should also watch out for increases in alcohol consumption or drug abuse, including prescription medication or sleeping pills.
Speak With Your Depressed Mom
The second thing you can do is approach your potentially depressed mom and remind her how important she is to you. Talking about depression straight away can be daunting, so you can just start from a place of concern and care. If they somehow mention considering ending their lives, you should seek help straight away. Something like “I don’t want to be here anymore” should be more than enough for you to get hold of a doctor or a psychotherapist.
Remember to stay vigilant. Sometimes, what looks like a sudden recovery is nothing but a preparation to die. Although it can be scary, recognizing suicidal behaviors is key to monitor a depressed individual. Depressed moms who are contemplating ending their lives often show signs, such as:
- Saying goodbye to people
- Giving away belongings
- Speaking about getting their affairs in order
- Calm behavior after a period of anxiety
- Statements that sound hopeless
Be prepared to act fast if you believe your mother is in danger. If she tries to hurt herself or is planning or ending her life, call the emergency services immediately.
If you keep telling yourself “my mom is depressed”, the third you could do is to encourage her to engage in therapy. Psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and general practitioners can assess patients thanks to a depression test. This simple questionary can determine if a patient suffers from depression. Depending on the outcome, the mental health practitioner will decide which treatment suits your mom best.
Spending time with your depressed mom is key to her recovery. Your mother loves you, even if her condition does not let her show her feelings to you. She may want to spend time with you, but she might lack the energy to do so. For this reason, you should always take the initiative and encourage your mom to do something with you, such as cooking together or watching a movie.
Spend Some Time Outdoors
Nature and fresh air can help people relax. In addition, Vitamin D is key to well-being. This vitamin is obtained from sun exposure and protects against a host of health problems. Many depressed moms feature a vitamin D deficiency, as they spend a lot of time indoors. This can lead to bone pain and muscle weakness.
Show Love to your Depressed Mom
Often, depressed people feel unwanted or unloved, but a reminder will help boost positive feelings. You can send her a text, write her a note, or even draw a picture. Just be sure to make it clear you love her. If you don´t live together with your parents, just call your mother to check on her and make her feel important.
Speak with your Family about your Depressed Mom
The members of the family also need to familiarize themselves with symptoms of depression. If you have little siblings, make sure they don´t think the new situation is their fault. You just need to approach them and explain the condition as simple as you can. For example, you can tell them your mother is sick but she still loves them very much.
Severely Depressed Moms: What to Do
Major depression can make someone too tired to carry out the most basic tasks, such as cooking, showering, doing laundry, or cleaning. A mother neglecting herself can also mean her family´s needs are neglected too. Older kids can help their depressed moms out while they heal, but they should never take over all the household responsibilities or become their mom´s sole caretaker.
If your needs are being neglected, reach out for help as soon as possible. If you don´t know how to contact a doctor or a therapist, just get hold of an adult, like a family member or a teacher, and tell this person about your depressed mom.
If you are an adult wanting to help a depressed mother, talk to her about getting help. If she is reluctant to see a therapist, try to convince her to visit a doctor for a general checkup. Be sure to set up boundaries about what you are able to do for your mother. Remember that you can only help people who are willing to accept help.
Caring for Yourself when your Mom is Depressed
Depressed relatives can also end up making you feel blue, too. If you keep telling yourself “my mom makes me feel depressed”, it’s probably time to start taking care of yourself. First of all, you should never blame yourself for the situation. You may feel you did something wrong that made your mother upset, but this would not be the case. In addition, guilt won’t fix anything. Depression is often caused by unbalances in the brain, unhealthy circumstances, or genetic disposition, so you are definitely not the cause.
Remember not to take things personally. A depressed mom may say things she does not mean, and you might believe you are the cause of stress in their lives. If your mother says something that hurts your feeling, take a deep breath, and let her know how her words make you feel. After she apologizes, do your best to let it go.
While taking care of your depressed mom, be sure to spend time with people that make you happy. Caring for mentally ill people can be draining, so you should not feel bad for leaving the house and having fun. Only this way you will the mental balance you need to stay afloat in this situation.
Helping your mom can be part of your daily routine, but should never be all of your life. Try to leave the house at least once a day, even if it’s just to have a walk for 20 minutes. You also want to find someone you can talk to, some good listener you have good confidence in. Consider other family members, older siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, or family friends.
Finally, you need to find a way to let out your feelings. Find activities that help you relax and feel good, such as exercise or creative workshops. You can’t pour out from an empty cup, so you want to feel energetic to be able to help a depressed mom.