[My Tisha b'Av article for YU To Go is now on-line here.]
Here’s a question I’ve asked and been asked over the years: At what point should parents talk to their children about depression?
The question arises for two reasons:
1. Stories in the news - From time to time there are news items about pre-adolescents, kids aged 9, 10, 11, taking their own lives, often in response to abuse from their schoolmates. The parents say the normal things – “We never knew it was this bad,” “He would swing in and out of moods, but he never talked as though he was a danger to himself,” and so on. And we wonder how we should introduce the question to our children. “Are you going through…?” “Are you thinking about…?”
2. Family histories - Studies show that one can, in fact, inherit a vulnerability to clinical depression. So when an adult is diagnosed with this condition, the follow-up questions include, “What about my children? Is there a way to test them for this? Do I warn them? How?”
It seems to me that normal child-rearing must include teaching, in an age-appropriate way, coping mechanisms for normal, non-biochemical depression. Dealing with frustration, with boredom, with tough peer groups, with love and loss – we cannot immunize our children against these situations, but we can, and I think must, help them find ways to cope, both directly and by modeling the behavior. This doesn’t require a conversation about clinical issues and genes and biochemistry.
But I’m asking about more than that, about helping our kids recognize when an emotion is outside of the normal range, and it’s time to call in the experts. Can that happen at age 10? Age 13? Age 15? Age 18?
I’m not suggesting that kids at these ages could diagnose an abnormal personal, emotional reaction – it’s hard enough for trained and objective adults – but perhaps we could tell them a little bit about the problem and its dangers, empowering them to seek out help… without terrorizing them and without leading them to a false self-diagnosis.
Obviously this not a one-size-fits-all subject, but surely someone with knowledge of developmental psychology could make some general recommendations.
I’m sending this question to my favorite Internet counseling resource. In addition, though, please comment with your thoughts, and any recommended reading material.