Explaining My Depression to My Teenage Daughter

photo credit - Ed Selby

{photo credit: Ed Selby. click for original photo.}

As we sat down for dinner tonight, I guess my exhaustion was clear. My 13yo daughter, who has a compassionate spirit, asked if I was ok.

After I said yes, she said, “Is there anything you would change about our lifestyle? Like, would you have had fewer children or would you not work so much?” She explained that she thought she would like to have a large family, too, and find fulfilling work, but wanted to know if it was something I would recommend or something I would change if I could.

Of course I wouldn’t change it, and I told her so.

I also confessed that it probably wouldn’t matter what our lifestyle was like. I might still be similarly troubled and tired at the end of the day.

“That’s just how depression is, I guess,” I told her.

“You have depression?” she asked. She looked both sad and horrified. How ironic, I thought. One of the things mothers with depression worry about is that they’re going to mess up their kids. And here my daughter didn’t even know that depression is something I’ve battled since before she was born. I thought I had always been very open about it, but somehow this daughter had missed it.

Either that, or she was just accepting me as I was, the only mother she’s known in the only condition she’s ever known me.

“What makes you so sad?” she asked. It almost makes me cry to think of why she asked. I know it was because she was trying to see how she could help.

“It’s not about what makes me sad. It’s just how my brain functions. There doesn’t even need to be anything sad happening, but sometimes I’ll still feel that way.”

She still seemed confused about it, so I tried what I thought was a fitting analogy:

“Imagine a woman is born with a limp. Something about the way her leg formed is different from most other people. And say she lives in lot of different places during her life. When she lives on a flat street, it still takes her longer than everyone else to get to where she’s going, but she can get there without any more obstacles than her limp. But say she moves to someplace that is very hilly. Now it still takes her longer to get to where she’s going, but she probably needs to stop more often, too. She’s probably more tired, maybe even gets a little more frustrated. My depression is like a limp. When life is relatively smooth, I can move along – maybe in a different way than a lot of people – but I do it my way. Then when life gets a little more bumpy (like it is NOW, being on my own during the week, going through *so* many life transitions), it takes even more effort, and it wears on me more. My mental “limp” is aggravated and things are harder than they were before. But flat or hilly, I have a limp. A mental limp. It’s not about happy or sad. It just is.”

My daughter thought on this for a few minutes and seemed to understand. It was a powerful moment between the two of us.

What about you? How would you explain depression to your child?


  • This was such a powerful post. I think it was fantastic how you detailed and described it to her. I don’t even know where I would begin, as my daughter is four, and I simply tell her, when I experience mood swings and whatnot, that mommy is sad. It’s the best I can do for the time being. Thanks for sharing this. It really was/is beautiful.

  • Mandinav

    That was a great analogy. I’m not sure how I would explain it. You did a nice job.

  • Shannon

    Oh my … I am bookmarking this, although I don’t need to.  This post will stay in my heart for a long time.  My daughters aren’t old enough to have this conversation yet, but when they are I hope I can handle it with half of the grace and beauty you did.  xoxo

  • Melissa


  • Pickettmj

    What a beautiful job you did in teaching your sweet daughter…I think the analogy is very good. Often it is so much easier to explain a physical challenge than a mental one (I found that out as a teacher a number of times) but the mental challenges we face are just as much of a struggle for those experiencing them. “Transitions” I have found are not necessarily good or bad…sometimes they are difficult and it is getting through them that is the challenge. I know I don’t have 5 children, but I was on my own for over 4 months while Mark was in Poland…and now being in Poland is good, but I’m still transitioning here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts…you do such a beautiful job with your words! 

  • Anonymous

    Wow. That was a really touching post. Thank you for sharing.

  • What a beautiful post, your words and that connection with your daughter – lovely. Your honesty with her is truly a gift.

  • Jessica Morgan

    Whoo, give me a second – you totally made me cry. That analogy is the perfect description. My mom started her battle with depression long before I was born, and while I never recall us having a conversation about it, I always thought she was just unhappy with the way her life turned out. After I was diagnosed as bipolar (at the tender age of 16) I just *knew* I would never have kids so I could avoid brining them into my unhappiness. Well, you know how well that worked out 😉 I will be remembering this post so I can help my kids understand that I wouldn’t change anything either.

  • Perfect analogy! It’s tough as a mom struggling with a “limp” (of any sort) to help children understand. I’ve struggled with some of the same issues with my kids and the bumps we’ve had in our road lately.

  • This was a touching post. You responded beautifully. 

  • Jpatrickcomm

    Oh Stacey. You’re my soul sister. I struggle with depression too. It’s so hard for me to explain what I’m going through to someone else when even I don’t get it! Thanks for sharing….

  • Erin Hanson

    Thank you for this post. Such a fitting analogy. 

  • pam

    Stacey this explanation is one of the best I have ever heard. So simply put, but clear. I love it.