Take Note: Signposts of Depression in Family Life
In my neck of the woods, as well as a wide swath of the United States, we’ve been experiencing an arctic freeze. I don’t know about you, but I can often feel those frigid temperatures deep inside of me. And they can be tough to shake.
Growing up, my dad seemed to come to life over the summer as he relished every moment on the golf course. I could almost set my watch to it—the first signs of warmth and sunlight and he was noticeably more cheerful. In the same way, he admittedly also experienced “blue” periods during the long cold sunless days of the Midwest winters. Turns out, it’s a thing. He was diagnosed with S.A.D.—Seasonal Affective Disorder. The lack of sunlight contributed to his depression or sustained low moods in the winter months, so he used a special UV lamp that he’d “bask in” to try and boost his mood. It certainly wasn’t the same effect as the balmy temperatures of July, but it seemed to help.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately. Maybe because I realize it took great strength for him to admit to his depression and…because these last couple of winters have been hard for me. Unlike my dad, that’s something I’m not particularly comfortable sharing, until now, that is.
No matter your political persuasion or feelings about the current state of health in the world, we’ve all experienced some effects of increased isolation due to COVID restrictions. Add to that the normal winter stuff and… well, one can start feeling kinda sad. I read a startlingly high statistic out of Boston University recently that said 1 in 3 Americans is affected by depression. That’s even higher than it was just after the onset of the pandemic. So, even if you’re not personally going through a tough time, chances are high that one of your loved ones—your husband, friend, parent, child, or even a neighbor—is. This is not a “mind over matter” kind of problem. We can’t bury our heads in the sand. It’s costing us.
depression is the primary reason someone dies of suicide every 14 minutes.
Not every person who is depressed resorts to suicide, but as loving, feeling spouses, parents, friends, neighbors, and confidantes, we certainly don’t want those around us to feel alone in their struggles. It’s important to take note of the signs of depression, so we have the courage to confront it in healthy ways.
So, what distinguishes day-to-day sadness from depression? There are some universal signposts to consider.
- Suicidal Thoughts Certainly, this is one of the most definitive and dangerous signs. But keep in mind, as mentioned above, not everyone who is depressed is suicidal. As one depressed patient describes it— “You don’t want to live. But you don’t want to die.” That said, feelings of self-harm are a serious warning to seek professional help immediately.
- Always Tired or Wanting to Sleep More Many people experience their low moods with a lack of energy or enthusiasm which can manifest in feeling exhausted all the time. Many people describe waking up feeling tired. This can be a result of restless sleep or angst about facing the day. Either way, it’s a clear sign that someone is struggling with anxiety or depression for a sustained period.
- Loss of Interest in the Things That You Once Enjoyed Tweens and teenagers who suddenly don’t want to take part in family fun, or opt-out of gatherings with friends are showing signs of depression. Trying to muster the energy to do the things that used to be fun is a neon sign that someone is struggling with mental health issues. Younger children are more prone to act out—tantrums, anger, or violent outbursts.
- Feelings of Worthlessness When people feel no purpose in their life, it is a harbinger of depression. While we will all battle feelings of inadequacy from time to time, when these feelings are persistent, take notice.
- Poor Concentration Errr… this one is kind of alarming because it feels like part of my M.O. as a mom. Certainly finding focus in a noisy world is a regular part of parenting, but it’s worth paying close attention to. When it feels as if you can’t quiet your mind for 5-10 minutes of slow breathing or prayer, it merits a second look. If the mind is constantly firing, it depletes the logical/ rational/ decision-making part of the brain. We can easily get swept up in irrational thoughts or concerns.
“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” ~Winston Churchill
Mr. Churchill knew a thing or two about courage. Not only in worldly affairs as he refused to back down in the face of Hitler’s maniacal onslaught, but also in his personal life. He confronted the so-called “Black Dog” of depression that took hold occasionally in his personal life. Depression is not something to fear, but rather to bravely face with open hearts. That means having the immense strength to admit vulnerability.
Looking back on my dad’s bout with depression, I see a man who was decidedly brave and desired more for himself and his family. Isn’t that what we all want?
Consider courageously discussing with your spouse the verboten topic of depression. Have you ever felt depressed? Have there been people in your life who have? How do you cope with low moods or persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety? How can you pass on a healthy perspective regarding mental health issues to your kids?
While talking about things is certainly important, in some cases, professional help is needed. Talking to a counselor or therapist may be the bravest step in one’s life! Let’s keep our eyes peeled for opportunities to help ourselves and our loved ones. For the record, spring is just 20 days away—not that I’m counting or anything…
Another hidden way to combat depression...giving in service of others.
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