Mental Illness

What to do When Your Adult Child Has Depression

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Adult child with depression

Depression in an Adult Child

We all hate to see our children hurt and that doesn’t change just because they are adults. When your adult child has depression – whether diagnosed or not – it can be heartbreaking. We want to help, but when it involves mental health it is difficult. A broken leg we know what to do but how do we help with something like depression. We know it is complex and not something we can fix by telling them to cheer up.

To begin with, we need to understand what depression actually is and what it isn’t.

What Depression Is

In psychology, depression is defined as a mood or emotional state with feelings of low self-worth or guilt and a reduced ability to enjoy life. While part of being human is to have down days or to be sad, depression is when those days don’t stop. The feelings of being down intensify and last for weeks on end. The Mood Disorders Society of Canada describes it as “…an overwhelming despair so bleak that people who have experienced it say that it is the worst pain they have ever endured.”

What Depression is Not

Depression is not being sad. Depression is not something the individual can control and is not something that can be fixed by just getting their mind off of it. It is a condition that can often be felt physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Depression is not necessarily a result of a sad situation, a breakup or grief (although all of those may cause depression in someone who is susceptible.)

What Does Depression Look Like For Your Adult Child?

So, what does depression look like? How can you expect your child to act when depressed? Not every adult child with depression has every symptom. In fact, some symptoms include both extremes such as loss of appetite and overeating.

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble with memory, focussing, remembering details
  • Difficulty sleeping/staying awake
  • Generalized aches and pains.
  • Negative feelings of being worthless, and helpless
  • Being irritable or easily angered/lack of emotions or reactions
  • Restlessness/sluggishness
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Talking and feeling pessimistic and hopeless
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

What to Do


Ask our child how they want you to help them. Don’t assume they need you to come over and make them take a walk every day. They may, or they may not. Be open and communicate honestly about what you can do.

If your child isn’t sure what you can do to help, ask them specific questions such as “I would like to bring a chicken casserole over tomorrow, is that okay with you?” They may not know what to ask for, so give them some ideas of how you could help.


There are two sides to effective communication; talking and listening. Let your adult child with depression talk about whatever is on their mind. Don’t try to solve their problems (you are feeling depressed? Oh, no you shouldn’t your life is good!) but listen and accept the fact that if they are feeling this way, then it’s a valid feeling. Read up on effective listening techniques and practice. Your child may need to talk and get things off their chest, or they may need to just sit quietly in the same room and know someone is there if they choose to engage.

Checking In

While it may be heard to resist calling them a couple times every day (or hour) to check in on them, it’s important you don’t hover and act overly protective. They are an adult and need to figure things out by themselves. If they feel they are causing you too much distress or if talking about their depression with you is causing you to stalk them, they may stop talking about it.

This is also where communicating is important. There is a big difference between showing up on their doorstep twice a day and baring into their house compared to saying “I’m worried about you and I’d like to text you when I get up in the morning, would you be okay with sending me a short message – even “I’m okay?”


Try to find a local group of parents who meet to talk about their child’s depression. Try this by contacting your area’s mental health association or a group specific to depression or mental health issues. Talking to someone who has been through what you are going through helps reassure you that you aren’t alone.


When your child is going through something like this, it’s very easy to think that the focus needs to be on them. While your focus may be on your child, it’s very important that you practice good self-care. If you are not taking care of yourself, you and your family runs the risk of you not being at your best mentally, physically and emotionally. You need to make sure to keep yourself in good health in order to help your child. Subscribe to this site and receive a list of ideas for self-care when your child has a mental illness.

When to Get Help

One of the difficulties with depression is that its symptoms are also very similar to someone who may be considering suicide. However, if your child is talking about suicide it is important that you take it seriously. A couple of things to be on the lookout for include your child making preparations. This might include them giving away prized possessions, making a will or phoning people they haven’t spoken to in a long time to say goodbye. Sometimes a warning sign is an unusual sense of being peaceful and resigned. If they have decided on suicide, they may feel that a burden of decision has been lifted and they feel they can now look forward to the pain being over.

If your child threatens or talks about suicide, take it very seriously. While not everyone who talks about it will try it and not everyone who tries will talk about it beforehand, up to 75 per cent of those thinking of suicide will give a warning sign.

If you notice any of these signs in your child or someone brings these to your attention, speak directly with your child. Ask them if they are considering taking their life. Don’t worry that you will give them ideas as someone who is not suicidal will not suddenly become so because someone asked them. If they say they have considered suicide, ask how much they have thought about it and if they have thought through a plan. It’s important to know how far they have gone in their thinking. There is a big leap from thinking “I wish I was dead” to “I’m going to go to the gun range and go around back and slip in front of one of the targets” for example. If they have considered how to take their life, contact an emergency care worker immediately.

Don’t be afraid of over-reacting by getting advice from someone. It is better to be safe than to be sorry. They will know what questions to ask and how to determine if there is an imminent threat for your child.

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