In light of the tragic loss of Robin Wiliams today, I found myself in a discussion with my 12 year old son about depression. My son is a huge movie buff, so he’s seen him in many films and also responded to my own reactions when I heard the news.
“Why would he kill himself?” he asked.
“Well, bud, he had very serious depression.” I said. “Depression is a sickness in your brain that many people have. Moms, dads, grandparents, and even kids can have depression.” I continued.
“What does he have to be depressed about? He had a great life!” he questioned.
“Well, depression can be impacted by situations in your life, but it’s a chemical problem in your brain. It can run in families and it can affect anyone. The kind of life you have does not determine if you have depression or not.” I said. I continued, “The thing about depression is, it’s an illness that people have to take care of – either with medicine, therapy, or both. It’s like when you have a fever. You take Advil, rest, and drink lots of fluids. If you didn’t do that, you’d probably get worse. I’m guessing that Robin Williams wasn’t taking the best care of himself with medicine and therapy. One of the best things you can do when you feel sad is to talk about it to a parent, a teacher, or someone you trust. Another extremely important thing is that if you or anyone else you know ever feels so sad that they talk about ending their life, you need to tell someone that minute.”
“Ok. I get it.”
We continued on a bit, but the key with your children is to frame it in a way that is age appropriate, and to reinforce it with regular check-ins. They don’t have to be full blown heart to heart chats, but your child needs to hear the message that speaking openly about it is expected and welcomed. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and having open and honest talks about it with your kids regularly helps to decrease the stigma associated with it for so many people.
For little ones, simply talking about the different feelings people have is enough. For school aged children, it’s fine to begin to talk about illnesses people have in their brain vs their body. It is up to you to determine how much or how little to share with your kids based on how well you feel they are capable of integrating it. Sometimes, you don’t need to address it at all, but just letting your child know that you are there to answer any questions they have at any time can be enough for the moment.
Just wondering, did any of these chats happen in your home tonight?