Tips for When Depression in Mothers Affects Infants, Children, & Teens
What are signs of depression in mothers?
Do you have feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness?
Do you find you are over- or under-eating and sleeping, withdrawing or feeling agitation?
Are you overcome with negative thoughts and guilt?
Millions of people suffer from this disorder including thousands of mothers.
If you feel like a weight is on your chest, that you can’t concentrate or focus, that you feel lost and empty, you may be depressed and need support. It is best not to wait, hoping the feelings will pass on their own. They may deepen and it will become harder to get relief.
The Affect on Infants
Depression in mothers can affect babies. If you feel this way right after your baby is born, you may suffer from Postpartum Depression. You may feel you cannot and do not want to be near your infant. Each woman is different and so is her baby. Getting support early on is most helpful.
Consider sharing responsibility for your baby with your partner, a grandparent or another individual. It’s best for the baby if there is one responsive, sensitive, nurturing person who the baby can become attached to, not multiple caregivers.
Treatment for the Mother and Care of the Infant
Once you receive medication and psychotherapy, spend time with your baby when you are ready.
The infant who has been carried by the mother in utero will feel her absence. Babies are acutely sensitive to the loss of the voice and smell of the mother who carried them for nine months.
Daniel Goleman who writes about Emotional Intelligence reports that three-month-old babies of depressed mothers may mirror their mothers’ moods when they play with them. They show more feelings of anger and sadness and less curiosity compared to infants of mothers who are not depressed. Thus, play time with another lively engaging caretaker is important for the baby.
The Responsive Caregiver
The responsive caregiver should hold the baby with any normal signs of distress due to hunger, feelings of physical discomfort and a need for stimulation.
Eye contact, skin-to-skin holding, and talking quietly in a sing-song voice are very soothing.
It is not a time to worry about beliefs in spoiling. Infants need comforting and holding when they cry.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Infant May Get Depressed
If the infant is not responsive, is withdrawing, overly quiet and not eating well, attention from the pediatrician and an infant-parent psychotherapist can be very helpful. Depression in mothers can lead to depression in infants but with early support from others this can be avoided.
How to Help
Small and Older Children
When you experience depression past a child’s one year mark, it is again essential for another caregiver to be available to the child. Again, multiple caregivers may be more convenient, but the child needs one person to feel attached to securely.
If your deep depression results in extended sleep time during the day, the child needs an explanation, so he or she doesn’t feel at fault or unlovable.
The caregiver can say something like this:
“Mommy doesn’t feel well. She is getting medicine and has to rest. We love her and she loves you very much. When she wakes up, she will spend time with you.”
When you awaken, look for your child and say something like,
“I am so glad to be with you. Let’s read and play. Let me get you a snack for us to have together. I missed you and we can be together now. I always love you.”
Encourage your child to express his or her feelings about your physical and emotional absence. Introduce feeling words like sad, mad, frustrated. This is difficult for a young child but if the family uses feeling language, the child will catch on as he or she becomes more verbal.
Child Play Psychotherapy
If your depression persists, child play psychotherapy is advised where the child plays out his or her feelings with toy figures, a doll house, sand and clay play, and drawings.
This therapy combined with attentive play at home with the person the child is attached to gives the child a voice to express thoughts and feelings and engage in a supportive, happier relationship.
Tolerate Outbursts with Kindness and Forgiveness.
Listen to your child. Ask, “What’s the matter? What do you need?”
Do not punish. The child is clearly not “bad” but distressed. The child is confused and sad. The upsets about incidental things are an avenue to express these feelings.
The Depressed Mother’s Role
As a depressed mother, as you recognize your persistent negative thoughts and feelings, you may be able to set them aside while playing with your child several times a day.
Reading to a child is easier than active play depending on how depressed you feel. Choosing stories that are humorous are advisable. It is an important way for a depressed mother to relate easily and openly.
Reading to a Child
You will feel gratified as you see your child’s interest in the story. Encourage your child to name characters and objects depicted and laugh about the story line. Both you and your child get a chance to smile as you read. You will feel a sense of togetherness.
Shifts in Negative Thoughts and Feelings
As you feel confident and effective, there will be a relief from negative thoughts about yourself as a mother, and in turn, you will find you are becoming more responsive to your child. In a circular way, your child is then more responsive to you which further lifts your depression.
Depression in Mother Can Result In
Self-Doubts about Being
As your depression lifts, it is essential to take in the positive comments others make to you about being a “good” mother. There is often a deep sense of guilt about not being available when you were more depressed. Keep your eyes open to your child’s pleasure at being with you and you will feel comforted.
Depression in Mothers with Teens
If you become depressed and have a teenager, it is important to openly discuss that you have this disorder, so the teen doesn’t feel any sense of responsibility if you tend to withdraw. Be explicit that this is your own problem and you are getting help. Clarifying that depression is an illness that you take medicine and attend therapy for can give your child hope and remove further doubts that the teen is in any way at fault.
Teens Who Become Caregivers
It is essential that mother and teen roles do not reverse. If you see signs that your teen is trying to take care of you beyond general kindness, let him or her know clearly that is not their role.
State emphatically that you are getting help from a psychotherapist and other adults. It is to the teen’s credit that he or she is empathic, but too much of a burden to take on your emotions.
When Teens are Empathic
An empathic adolescent is all too easy to rely on and talk to. They can be very good listeners and offer much needed comfort. But this cannot be their role.
If your partner or spouse is not available and empathic or even angry that you’re depressed, it’s very easy to slip into complaining to your kind teen. Refrain and save those words for your therapist.
Even the most empathic adolescents can become overcome by their parents’ emotions. They may later resent that their teenage world is being overcome by their parent’s needs instead of pleasure with peers. It’s a time for teens to become more independent and they need room to grow.
Tips for Relieving Depression
- Seek immediate professional help for yourself
- Offer psychotherapy to infants, children and teens.
- Provide an alternative caregiver that gives security and love.
- Set aside negative thoughts and feelings for periods during the day when you can be with your child, no matter how brief.
- Confide in your partner and therapist, not your child.
- Do not punish acting-out children and teens. Recognize they are distressed and listen to their thoughts and feelings.
- Use feeling-vocabulary in your feeling, so even young children can express their emotions
- Read about depression, so you become your own expert and advocate.
- Continue in therapy after the depression lifts, so you understand yourself more fully and prevent future episodes.