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The Challenges of Parenting While Living With Depression

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2024

Parenting comes with its own set of challenges. For parents grappling with depression, these challenges can feel even more overwhelming and daunting.

Depression is extremely common. About 21 million adults in the United States have had at least 1 depressive episode in their lives. A 2019 study found that the rate of depression increases for parents who have a child with intellectual and developmental disabilities.1

From managing daily tasks to nurturing emotional connections with their children, the impact of depression can be profound. But know that this is a common issue for many parents out there. And there is help available.1,2

How depression affects parenting

It is normal for parents to have days when they feel exhausted, frazzled, or irritated. But depression goes beyond ordinary parenting stress. Parenting with depression can make even the simplest tasks feel overwhelming.1,2

It can also look different from person to person. For instance, some people have depression around the birth of their child (postpartum depression). Others have struggled with depression for most of their lives, and parenting intensifies it.1,2

Being a mom or dad while living with depression

Here are some common ways parental depression can manifest:1,2

Inability to carry out everyday responsibilities

Everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, getting kids ready for school, preparing meals, and engaging in activities with children can feel nearly impossible when you are living with untreated depression. The constant battle against fatigue, hopelessness, and negative thoughts can drain you of the energy needed to care for yourself and your children.1,2

Emotional disconnection

Depression can impact a parent's ability to connect emotionally with their children. Feelings of sadness, irritability, and low self-worth can distort their perceptions and lead to withdrawal or disengagement from family life. This emotional distance can create tension within the household and strain relationships between parents and children.1,2


Parents with depression may withdraw from social interactions due to sadness, fatigue, or low self-esteem. The energy required to engage with others becomes overwhelming, leading parents to retreat from family and their children, as well as friends and community activities.1,2

This isolation can worsen feelings of loneliness. It can also make managing depression even harder, creating a cycle that further isolates parents from sources of support and connection.1,2

Shame and blame

Parents with depression often feel shame about their emotional difficulties and may blame themselves for being "bad parents." If you are a parent and are struggling with depression, it does not mean you are a bad parent. It just means that you need the right support to feel like yourself again.1

How parental depression can affect children

Children are incredibly perceptive. They can sense changes in their parents' moods and behavior. When a parent is struggling with depression, children may experience several emotions, depending on their age.1,2

For example, children might feel confused, sad, scared, insecure, or have feelings of guilt, believing that they are somehow responsible for their parents' distress. It could also mean that they take on responsibilities they normally would not because their depressed parent is unable to carry out certain parenting responsibilities. This adds another layer of complexity to a child's life.1,2

Parents with untreated depression can affect children in the following ways:1,2

  • Lack of responsiveness
  • Disengaging
  • Monotone or flat affect (not showing any emotion)
  • Neglect

Growing up in an environment with a parent who is depressed can also increase a child's risk of developing mental health issues. But a parent's depression does not mean it will always negatively affect a child, especially when the parent is getting appropriate treatment.1,2

How to talk to your kids about depression

Honest and open communication is crucial. Experts recommend having age-appropriate discussions with children about depression.1

You can start by explaining what depression is in simple terms. For example, "It is a medical condition that affects how people feel and think." You can also share some of the symptoms of depression and that you are getting help from your doctor to make those symptoms better.1

Reassure children that depression is not their fault and that you still love them, even if you may not always show it.1

Get treated for your depression

The best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to get treatment for your depression. There are many avenues for treatment you can consider, such as:1-3

Talk with your doctor about your depression symptoms. They may recommend you see a psychiatrist or psychologist who can assess your mental health and get you the treatment you need.

Get support from other adults

Parenting takes a village of support. This is even more important for parents struggling with depression. Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it. This might be your partner, family members, friends, fellow parents, or others in the community such as teachers and coaches, who can be aware of a child’s needs and help out when able.1

Building a strong support network of friends, family members, or other parents facing similar challenges provides much-needed support, encouragement, and understanding.1

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.