parenting: depression proof your kids

by Andrew Fuller, Clinical Psychologist
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

About 20 per cent of people experience depression at some time in their lives. Unfortunately once someone has experienced depression, they are at far greater risk of feeling that way again. While we can’t protect everyone from depression, there are things that we can do to make it less likely.

yellow plush toy

In childhood/teenage years depression can be harder to pick because it is obscured by heightened emotions and times of grumpiness.  Photo by Pixabay on

Sadness is not always bad: Everyone loves being happy but being sad at times is not such a bad thing. Sadness gives us time for thinking things over, sometimes regretting things we have done and helps us to resolve to be better people. Feelings of sadness, disappointment and set backs are part of human lives and without them we don’t live whole lives. We all want our kids to be happy but know that there will be times they will be sad. Helping young people to know that they won’t be happy all the time is important.

Realising that all feelings pass and that we can learn from the whole range of feelings, sadness included, is part of being human.

Lower the amount of stress: Identify some of the major sources of stress in your life and develop systems to deal with them. If you can’t avoid the stress at least develop a de-compression strategy as a way of winding down after being revved up. Going for a walk, doing some exercise and being active are some of the best ways.

Find some good friends: Along with family, having a few good friends that we can talk things over with enriches our lives and protects us in difficult times.

Eat healthily: What we eat changes our moods. Countries that eat low levels of fish have higher levels of depression. Fish contains a fatty acid known as EPA, which is lacking in those with depression. Fatty acids are also found in flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds and are good fats. Whole grain oats have been shown to help with depression as they have folic acid and B vitamins and helps with a slow release of energy versus the crash and burn of blood sugar levels that can happen. Foods high in selenium, which is found in meat, fish and cereal grains, has also been shown to decrease symptoms of depression. Leafy greens have magnesium in them which helps with depression and sleep patterns.
Have some sources of ‘Flow’: We experience ‘flow’ when we get involved in an activity that captivates us. At the end of these types of activities people often think, ‘Where did the time go?’ There are many sources of flow—computer games, sports, drawing, dancing, reading, and swimming are some. These things absorb you and take you away from your day-to-day worries. Losing yourself in enjoyable activities that challenge you is highly protective against depression.

Belong to the karma club: Increase good will in the world by doing something positive for someone else. Try this out for one week. Try to ‘knock someone’s socks off’. Give them compliments, greet them exuberantly and take time to be with them. You’ll be amazed at how much benefit you get from increasing someone else’s happiness.

Be grateful and lucky: Even people who have had rotten things happen to them can rise above them. They usually do this by deciding to be lucky. While we can focus on the things that have upset us, most of us have many things and people to be grateful for. Focusing on that part of your life.

Get enough sleep and rest: Sleep is one of the most powerful ways to protect ourselves against depression. The structures in the brain that support the most powerful anti-depressant, serotonin, are built and re-built between the sixth and the eighth hour of sleep. Over 60 per cent of people who sleep five or less hours a night end up obese and depressed. If you’re having difficulty sleeping:
– decrease caffeine late in the day
– decrease sugar in your diet
– go to bed at the same time every day and wakeup at the same time every day.
– avoid late nights and naps after 4 pm
– avoid spicy, sugary, heavy foods before bed
– have the room at a comfortable temperature
– block out distracting noise
– don’t sit in bed while studying, get in the habit of reserving it for sleep
– a warm milk before bed is good as it is high in tryptophan, which aids sleep.
– write a to-do list for the next day before getting into bed.
– have a pre-sleep ritual e.g. reading, warm bath, relaxing rituals
– switch off the electronics, especially phones

Get some exercise: Exercise decreases stress hormones such as cortisol and increases endorphins (happy chemicals). It also helps release dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin, which work together to make you feel good. Endorphins, a hormone like substance, is produced in the brain and functions as the body’s natural painkillers. During exercise endorphins can leave you in a state of euphoria with a sense of wellbeing. The most effective exercise for the release of endorphins is cardiovascular exercise and aerobics.

Moderate exercise for 10 minutes a day is enough to improve mood and increase energy but it’s suggested you do 30 minutes a day.

Laugh more: Laughter raises serotonin and dopamine levels. Watch shows/movies that make you laugh, share funny stories and jokes with friends. People report that laughing even when they don’t feel happy improves their mood and sense of wellbeing.

When should I worry? Checklist of signs:
In childhood/teenage years depression can be harder to pick because it is obscured by heightened emotions and times of grumpiness. Some signs to look out for are:
– loss of interest in usual activities
– increased use of drugs and alcohol
– sleep problems
– changes in energy levels: sluggish, agitated, restless
– changes in eating patterns: disinterest in food or over eating
– speaking about death and hopelessness
– increased and inexplicable irritability

It is worth getting some help if your child or adolescent appears to be depressed. One way to do this to say, ‘I’m worried about you and I want you to come with me to see someone so that I can work out whether I should be worried or not’. Try to find a good local psychologist, psychiatrist or doctor who can relate to young people.

For further information:



About nswrwn

NSW Rural Women’s Network is a government program working in innovative ways to promote leadership and action on rural women’s issues. The RWN team is dedicated to connecting and exchanging information with women and stakeholders in rural, regional and remote communities.
This entry was posted in anxiety, Depression, Families, mental health, resilience, rural women, school students, suicide and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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