Q Both my daughters are suffering from depression. The older has attempted suicide and went to an inpatient center and the younger has had some thoughts with a plan so she is at an inpatient center now. Is this normal to have two children who feel so depressed? They are my only children and it makes me feel like a terrible mother! I’ve been trying to research and see if this happens, where siblings can both have depression, but I have not found any articles on this topic.
Thank you so much for reaching out for support and asking these important questions at such a difficult time. Depression is actually one of the most common of all mental health problems. It is diagnosed in almost three and a half percent of children aged 13-17 in the US, which is approximately 1.9 million children, and we know that many more struggle with depression without ever getting diagnosed. So your daughters are by no means alone — depression is a significant mental health problem for a lot of teens.
It also isn’t unusual for depression to occur in families, across generations or among siblings. Part of that is due to genetic factors, which are one of the causes of depression. Another cause is environmental factors. Having a sibling with depression can impact the other family members, siblings and parents included. I also want to acknowledge that we have all been under a significant amount of stress over the past two years due to COVID-19. Chronic stress like this can certainly contribute to depression.
It sounds to me like you are, in fact, a great mother. You are making sure your daughters get the kind of care they need, including a higher inpatient level when necessary, and you are reaching out to get more knowledge to help you support your daughters. It sounds like you are doing the best you can in a really difficult and stressful situation.
Please keep being proactive and seeking help. It’s going to be really important to make sure that both of your daughters are continuing to get the care they need. There are different kinds of therapy that have been shown to be effective for teens with depression, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). These therapies will help your daughters learn to manage their moods so they feel like they are in control of their life — not the depression. Some teens also benefit from a combination of this therapeutic approach and medication.
Try to maintain open communication, too. I always like to tell parents who have teens who experience suicidal ideation that talking about it does not increase their risk at all. So don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk about it. Open communication at home actually keeps kids safer.
Finally, I want to say that it’s critical right now for you to be taking care of yourself, too. Just like on an airplane, you need to put on your oxygen mask first in order to help them. If you haven’t yet, you might benefit from seeking out individual therapy for yourself or even joining a support group for parents of teens struggling with depression. DBT, one of the treatments for kids with depression, also has a parent component that could be very helpful for you.