How do you explain depression to your children?

My Mountain New Banner (no label)We’ve got such an important topic for this week’s My Mountain from Jane Jones*.  Explaining mental health to our children is absolutely vital but it can also be really daunting…

I’ll start with a little bit about myself.

I had a breakdown / severe depression 10 years ago when my eldest was starting school. It was tough but I got through it. I went through group therapy for two years and felt well enough to have another baby and another child came in quick succession so now I had three children and managed to stay well day by day (with a few blips of course). The youngest started school and I returned to work.

In September this year I realised I was not feeling great but put it down to shorter days, stress with my kids schooling, difficult anniversaries etc etc. I met a friend for coffee in October, we were just chatting and she told me “I think you need to go to the doctors” It took me a few days to pluck up the courage but did not need to worry as he was so understanding.

I met my GP a few times before Christmas and we thought if I got a good rest over Christmas, got some more daylight, exercise and cut out caffeine I’d feel much better. I had a lovely Christmas, spent time with family and mostly felt better. Then everyone returned to work and school and I was in a right state, feeling really anxious about everyday things and really struggling with intrusive and suicidal thoughts. This thing was going to need more than a few lifestyle changes, damn!

As I work part time and love my job I was determined to keep this going.

The kids still need to be taken to school, whatever I feel like. The washing still needs to be done, shopping needs to be bought, meals made and everything else that goes with making a family run. Somehow I still manage to do this, except last week when my daughter’s school trousers did not make it to the wash on Friday as I went to bed really early. Monday was a big panic for her that she did not have the correct trousers. I could not get them dry in time. Along with this came the creeping realisation that this could easily happen again, and I’m not going to be better anytime soon. I realised I need to tell my children’s school what is going on so they do not get into trouble for uniform problems, occasional lateness. I sat and wrote to all three schools. Seeing in black and white that I am severely depressed at the moment came as a shock to me!!!?

Having told the schools I realised I had to also tell the children what is going on with mummy in an age appropriate way. I googled and found this brilliant simple guide: When a parent is depressed… What kids want to know.

When the problem is about depression, it often becomes a secret that nobody talks about. When children don’t have answers to their questions, they tend to come up with their own, which may be incorrect and scary!
We have three children of different ages so the information given to them was a
bit different.

I prepared their favourite meal, roast chicken, and my hubby and I decided to tell them as we started the meal so we had time together to talk about it. I was so keen as I did not want them to go off on their own immediately afterwards. My son was going to a youth group later that evening so I messaged his youth leader to let him know so he could chat to him about it if my son wished.

Up to then I’d told the children I was a just very tired, but I was also getting increasingly impatient and angry and, concentrating for any period of time especially in a noisy family setting was tricky. I was also aware I’d been more harsh with the children than I needed to be and wanted them to know none of it was their fault.

I told them my brain was not working so well at the moment so that is why I am acting differently. As they knew we’d been through a number of life crisis as a family recently and I told them this was probably why I was ill now.

I was able to reassure them I am seeing my doctor who has given me some medication to help which should make me feel better soon but it may take time before I’m back to my normal self.

The kids did ask if there was anything else they could do help me get better. I said I could do with a bit more help with washing up, tidying up etc. That seems to be working for now which is a real blessing.

We told them Depression is a fairly common disorder, but people don’t always talk about it.

One of the children asked if they could get depression too and did anyone else in my family have depression. I think my dad goes through periods of depression but it is NEVER spoken about. We reassured the kids if they could be honest about how they are feeling to each other, us and other trusted adults like their teachers it would help them stay well. I’ve rarely talked about how I feel, I barely even know myself anymore, and I know this is what I need to work on at this time. We also said if they were worried they must tell us and not just keep it to themselves.

My youngest asked if she could catch depression. We told her, no, it’s not like a cold. It’s just something wrong with the chemicals in mummy’s brain at the moment.

We did not talk to them about self harm and suicide as we felt they were a bit young to handle it.

We’re trying to keep the conversation going, letting them ask questions as they need and reminding them they can also talk to their teachers about it if they are worried.

On reflection the conversation with the children was much easier than I expected. It’s good not to have to talk in hushed whispers anymore.

Last time I was ill I hardly spoke to anyone about it .I “coped” on my own, took about eight overdoses  and self harmed (It’s a miracle I survived!)

This time I am determined I will talk about it, let others support me if they offer. I’ve told about fifteen friends and family so far and all have been so understanding. The PM Theresa May spoke last week about breaking the stigma of Mental health and I hope that I can have a part to play in this.

Have you ever had to explain depression to your children? How do you do it?

Do you have a parenting challenge you’d like to share?  If you’re interested in contributing to the My Mountain series please email me at  

*name has been changed

Related Posts:

5 Tips For Talking About Mental Health

Coming Clean About PND

A Recovery Story

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