Depression affects millions of moms, including me. Here’s what you can do to help yourself and those you love.
Depression is relatively common. According to the
Though the media often depicts those with depression as loners, the truth is depression does not discriminate. It knows no restrictions and no bounds. I would know.
I am a wife, mother, writer, runner, and “depressed mom.” I have lived with this condition for more than 19 years.
Depression has affected me in numerous ways. Because of my illness, I have missed out on many happy moments and special memories with my kids.
I’m often physically present but emotionally absent. I laugh at my daughter’s jokes but am not happy. I watched the first year of my son’s life through a fish bowl. Details are hazy and unclear.
Some days I am sick, but other days I’m present and fun — I dance in the kitchen with my daughter and sing in the bathroom while bathing my son. But while my life is, and has been, a blur, depression does not control me. It doesn’t define me — it’s just one aspect of who I am.
Here’s everything you need to know about living with depression as a parent, and how you can help the depressed loved one in your life.
Statistically, women are nearly
The reason for the disparity remains unclear. Some studies suggest hormonal changes are to blame while others suggest life circumstances and cultural stressors play a role.
However, the cause doesn’t really matter. What matters is how we care for, help, and treat those living with depression.
While depression affects individuals regardless of their race, sex, age, and/or socioeconomic background, certain types of depression are unique to women. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, for example, is a severe type of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that affects women in the weeks before menstruation.
Perinatal depression is a type of depression that strikes during pregnancy and after childbirth, and perimenopausal depression can cause a woman to experience irritability, anxiety, sadness, and/or loss of enjoyment at the time of their menopause transition.
The symptoms of depression are fairly well known. For example, those with depression typically experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, or apathy.
Loss of interest in normal activities is also common, as are agitation and sleep disturbances. Those with depression typically sleep too much or not at all.
However, some symptoms of depression affect women more than men.
“Women and men feel depression differently,” Dr. Richelle Whittaker — an educational psychologist specializing in maternal mental health — tells Healthline.
“Women generally experience a lack of motivation, a decreased interest in preferred activities, a change in sleeping or eating patterns, and/or feel an overall sense of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness. Difficulty concentrating is also common and thoughts of suicide may occur.”
Whittaker continues, “Men, however, are more likely to display symptoms of anger or aggression. They also tend to engage in high risk behaviors, such as drinking and driving or increase in alcohol intake.”
If you are experiencing depression, know this: You are not bad. You are not crazy, and you are not alone. There is hope — depression can be treated.
Helplines, hotlines, and resources:
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: 800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741
- Postpartum Support International: 800-944-4773
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to741741
You can and should reach out to a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, trusted doctor, community leader, and/or your friends.
“If you believe you are struggling with depression, talk to your medical doctor or seek the help of a therapist or other mental health professional,” Whittaker says.
Check-ins changed my life.
While it is hard to see someone you love in pain, there is a lot you can do to support them. Ask your loved one how they are feeling and do so consistently and regularly.
Listen to them without shame, judgement, or stigma. Keep the “but you have so much to be happy about” comments to yourself.
Don’t try to fix them because you can’t. Instead, offer empathy and companionship. You should also try to help them get support.
“Create activities to get your loved one out of the house. Go for a walk with them, have lunch, … [plan] meet-ups, etc. Offer them rides to and from therapy and be yourself,” Whittaker says. The point isn’t what you do, it’s that you are persistent and present.
And ask them what they need. They may not have an answer — at least not right away — but as someone who has lived with depression for nearly 2 decades, I can tell you: Pointed and direct questions are useful.
While living with — and parenting through — depression is tough, it is not impossible. In fact, with proper care and support, many individuals go on to live rich and fulfilling lives. Know you matter. Your life matters, and feelings are not facts. There is help and there is hope.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few — and when her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.