How to Deal With a Depressed Parent

Two Parts:Supporting Your ParentEngaging in Self Care

It’s difficult to know your role when your parent has depression. Depending on your age, there may be very little you can do to help, but there are some things which may help you to deal with having a depressed parent. As a child, you are by no means obligated to take on a parental role. If you have the ability, time, and energy, you may wish to help out or give your support to your parent, however, it's important to remain aware of healthy boundaries and your own limitations.

Part 1
Supporting Your Parent

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    Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of depression. You may notice that your parent has disengaged from activities that were previously enjoyable. Your parent may seem sad, hopeless, or act helpless. You may notice changes in weight (putting on weight or losing weight) or changes in sleep (sleeping very often or not sleeping enough).[1]
    • Your parent may have different behavior, such as feeling more irritable, aggressive, or short-tempered than usual.
    • Your parent may lack energy and may appear exhausted much of the time.
    • Watch out for increases in alcohol consumption or drug use. If your parent has changed habits with alcohol or drugs (including prescription medications and sleeping pills), this may be related to depression.
    • Depression is not contagious and you cannot catch it.
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    Talk to your parent. It can be scary to bring up the topic of depression, especially when it’s with your parent. If you are concerned and feel like things will not get better, it’s okay to start a conversation about depression. Approach your parent from a place of concern and care.[2] Remind your parent how important he is to you, and that you want to see him happy.
    • Say, “I’m concerned about you and your health, have things changed? How are you doing?”
    • You can also say, “I’ve noticed things have changed, and you seem sadder than usual. Is everything okay?”
    • If your parent says something about how he "doesn't want to be here anymore," you should seek help right away.[3]
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    Encourage your parent to seek therapy. After you’ve had a heartfelt discussion with your parent, urge her to find a therapist. It’s important to understand that you are not responsible for your parent’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior, especially related to depression. Encourage your parent to see a therapist. Therapy can help reframe negative thought patterns, identify triggers, practice coping skills, and practice preventative measures to reduce symptoms of depression in the future.[4]
    • Say to your parent, “I want to see you healthy and happy, and I think a therapist could help you with that. Would you consider reaching out to a therapist?”
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    Engage in family therapy. While individual therapy can help the individual gain skills, involving the whole family in therapy can be helpful for everyone.[5] When a parent suffers from depression, the whole family may suffer. Family therapy can help your family communicate and work out issues that come up.
    • If you feel like you are carrying much of the weight of family functioning, family therapy is a great place to bring that up and come up with compromises.
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    Spend time with your parent. Your parent loves you, even if he is unable to show it clearly to you.[6] Show your parent that you love him back by making a point to spend time together. Your parent may want to spend time with you, but lack the energy to do so. You can take the initiative and invite him to do something with you. Do activities that both of you find enjoyable.
    • Cook dinner together.
    • Draw together.
    • Walk the dog together.
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    Go outdoors with your parent. Nature, sunshine, and fresh air can relax your parent and help her feel better. Going for a walk outside can lower depression and stress.[7] Observe the trees and the animals and enjoy being in nature.
    • Go to a park or a nature preserve and take a walk together.
    • Even a stroll around the block while walking the dog counts.
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    Show that you love your parent. Sometimes depressed people feel unloved or unwanted, and a reminder can boost positive feelings. You can write a note, send a card, or draw a picture. Whatever you do, make it clear that you love your parent.
    • If you don’t live with your parent, you can send a card or an e-mail to show that you are thinking about your parent and love her.
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    Harness the power of human touch. Give your parent a big hug. People that lack affection tend to be more lonely and struggle with depression at higher rates. People who experience adequate affection are generally happier and healthier individuals.[8]
    • Hug your parent as often as you feel comfortable.
    • Offer a light touch on the shoulder or arm for support.
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    Talk to your younger siblings about what's going on. If you have little siblings, they may realize that something is different with your parent, but not know what. Explain to them as best as you can, as simply as you can.
    • Say, "Dad has depression, and sometimes he acts cranky and stays in bed a lot. It's not your fault, and he still loves you very much."
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    Know what to do if you parent can no longer take care of himself. Sometimes when a person is depressed he stops taking care of himself — he may stop showering, going to work, or stop doing things like making dinner, cleaning the house, doing laundry, etc. Your parent neglecting himself might mean your needs are neglected, too.
    • If your needs are being neglected, you need to reach out for help. If your dad is depressed your mom or step-mom is present, try talking to her about what's going on with dad and that you think he needs help. You can also call a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even a friend's parent or teacher. You may be able to help out in little ways, like by keeping your room clean or doing little tasks like taking out the trash, but it is your parent's responsibility to take care of you.
    • If you are a little older, like a teenager, you might be able to help pick up the slack a little while your parent heals. Try helping out around the house, offering to make or pick up dinner, driving siblings to activities, etc. However, you should not be taking over all household responsibilities or become your parent's sole care taker. Help out with things that are high-priority (like meals), but be aware that, right now, all chores might not get done.[9]
    • If you are an adult, talk to your parent about getting help. If he is reluctant to see a therapist, you may have better luck convincing him to go in to his doctor for a general checkup.[10] Set boundaries about what you are willing and able to do for your parent, remembering that your parent must be willing to accept help before he can get better. You can't force him to get help.[11]
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    Recognize suicidal behaviors. It's scary to think about, but familiarizing yourself with suicidal behaviors is important if your parent is depressed. People who are contemplating suicide often show signs, and knowing what they are ahead of time means you can be ready if you need to act.[12] Some signs that a person is in danger of attempting suicide include:[13]
    • Giving away belongings.
    • Talking about going away or getting her affairs in order.
    • Talking about death or suicide, possibly talking about hurting herself.
    • Talking about feeling hopeless.
    • A sudden change in behavior, such as calmness after a period of anxiety.
    • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors, such as increased alcohol or drug use.
    • Saying that you would be better off without her, that she doesn't want to be here anymore, that it will be over soon, or similar statements.
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    Be prepared to act if you think your parent is in danger. If you think your parent is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911. If your parent is threatening self-harm or suicide, has a weapon or lethal means (such as pills), is talking about suicide and is acting agitated or anxious, or is in the process of an attempt, call emergency services (such as 911) immediately.[14]

Part 2
Engaging in Self Care

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    Avoid blaming yourself. You may feel guilty or feel like you did something "wrong" to upset your parent, but this is not the case.[15] There are usually many reasons why a person gets depressed, making the occurrence of depression more complex than just one or two reasons. Many people become depressed because they have factors in their backgrounds that make them more vulnerable to developing depression.
    • You did nothing wrong and you didn't make your parent depressed. Ditch the blame and guilt, because you'll just be beating yourself up, and it's not healthy for you.
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    Avoid taking things personally. Typically, women tend to be weepy and moody, while men tend to be angry or quick-tempered. Either way, a depressed parent may say things that she does not mean.[16] You may feel like you are the cause of stress in your parent’s life. Knowing that your parent’s emotions are different — which can cause behavior changes — can help you realize that these things are not true.
    • If your parent hurts your feelings, keep the remark in perspective. Try to forgive your parent and accept that she may be in a different frame of mind. While it doesn’t make the remark any less painful, it can help you understand that it’s not your fault.
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    Spend time with people who make you happy. Go out with friends, spend time with positive people, and enjoy your life.[17] Don't be afraid to get out of the house and do things. Fun outings can provide you with the mental balance you need to stay afloat at home.
    • Don’t let your parent’s care and household duties become your life. It’s not your responsibility to be the caretaker. Offer your help but don’t let it take over.[18]
    • It's important to set boundaries with your parent. If your parent relies on you to make him feel good or whole, this is an unhealthy dynamic that can have major repercussions on your own mental health. [19]
    • Try setting small boundaries at first, and try to do so without anger or judgement. For instance, if your parent over-shares with you, telling you more about his problems than is appropriate, you could say something like, "Dad, I love talking with you, but this is a little more than I can handle. I think Aunt Susan could really help you with this problem."
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    Talk about your feelings. Your emotions are important, and it isn't healthy to bottle them up. Find someone who is a good listener and confide in her.[20]
    • Your parent may be too sick to fill a parental role, so search for other adults who can be mentors to you. Consider older siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, spiritual leaders, and family friends.
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    Find ways to let out your feelings. It's natural to feel stressed, worried, and sad when your parent has depression. It’s important for you to cope with your feelings by having healthy outlets to de-stress and recharge. Try keeping a journal, drawing or painting, listening to music, or writing.[21]
    • Find activities that relax you or help you feel great. This may include sports, going for a run, or playing with a family pet.
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    Remember that it's okay to cry. Having a depressed parent is difficult. Your feelings are natural and valid. Crying is a great way to release your emotions in a healthy way. Crying can make you feel better because tears release stress hormones and toxins.[22]
    • Don’t feel ashamed to cry. There is nothing wrong with crying or expressing your emotions, alone or in public.
    • Give yourself as much time as you need to let your tears out. If you feel more comfortable, you can excuse yourself to cry somewhere private, like your bedroom or the bathroom.
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    Recognize that your parent still loves you. Depression can do strange things to your parent's mind and behaviors — wearing her down, altering her feelings, and causing her to say things she doesn't really mean. She’s going through a hard time. She still loves you very much.[23]


  • If you don't feel safe, have a "safe house" nearby that you can go to, or call an adult you trust.

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Categories: Helping People with Depression | You and Your Parents