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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Pugle

On Parenting a Child Living with Depression and Suicidal Thinking

Updated: Apr 15

This post is an adapted transcript from Mad Maid podcast Episode 2: On Parenting a Child With Suicidal Thinking Mad Maid is a feminist mental health podcast by Michelle Pugle.

If you are in crisis, please call the suicide hotline in Canada at 1.833.456.4566 or text 45645.

If you could go back and parent your 11-year-old self, what would you have done differently?

Before we launch in answering this listener question, I have to make note that there are drastic differences between then and now that can’t be ignored. What i mean is that eleven year olds today are actually living in a different world than I was at eleven.

For context, I was eleven in the year 2000. For context, 9/11 hadn’t happened yet, social media was in its absolute infancy, and Beyonce was still part of the girl group Destiny’s Child.

Mental health wasn't a common term or some campaign we talked about every year or used to make corporations seem woke…

Another important note of context, work on the DSM-5 or the version of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders we have all been living with for the last decade was just beginning. This is the quote unquote bible doctors use to determine a mental illness diagnosis. The change between DSM 4 to 5 saw 15 new disorders added and many removed.

That means any diagnostics being done were within the framework of the DSM-4. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Unlike other disorders, this is actually the same criteria used to diagnose major depressive disorder today.

Major Depressive Disorder Criteria

Criteria include experiencing 5 or more symptoms from the following list over the past 2 weeks:

  1. Depressed Mood

  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in most or all activities

  3. Significant weight loss (or poor appetite) or weight gain

  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia

  5. Psychomotor retardation (coordination issues)

  6. Fatigue or loss of energy

  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt

  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness

  9. Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), or suicidal ideation, plan, or attempt

Back then, because it was basically still the 90s, mental illness was being researched and reviewed with respect to its observable markers only (ie., differences in biological markers like blood levels of certain hormones, brain size differences between people with and without diagnoses, and genetic factors.

My doctor explained my depression by way of my family’s history, ie., a close family member had a longstanding diagnosis of major depressive disorder, so now I did too.

If only it were that simple. If only depression were directly caused and only caused and independently and solely caused by genetic factors alone.

If that were true, maybe we’d have an answer on how to support people throughout the different life stages so they are empowered to continue living.

The way I was empowered was with a pill that came with a promise of maybe making me feel better, maybe worse, and maybe nothing at all. I was also told not to worry because there were many pills that could be tried and we would find the right one…eventually.

I just had to trust the doctor and tell him if anything got better or worse, just like an eye exam when they test the different optical lenses to see which is more fuzzy or more clear.

After a while, it’s kind of hard to tell, now isn’t it?

Now, to answer the question...

Now that we’re all caught up, if I could go back and parent myself at that age, here’s what I would have done differently.

This list is in no particular order because no one item is more impactful than the other. They should all be considered against your own situation, intuition, and the unique needs of your child and family at large.

Without further ado, here it is: what I would do if I were to go back and parent myself at age eleven.

Like all Mad Maid content, this is personal experience and opinion and not to be taken as medical advice.

  1. I would ask how it feels. I’d ask not only how they’re feeling but how that feeling actually feels in the body. For example, can they give it a colour, shape, temperature, etc.? This begins the process of learning how emotions feel and what words the kiddo is using to communicate.

  2. I would take stock of current coping skills: What are they? Are they still working? Are new ones needed? As a growing and learning preteen, I’d assume we need an update on what may have worked or not worked in younger years. Some things can include writing about it, painting about it, and joining a team environment outside the household, if possible.

  3. I would learn early warning signs of depressive episodes including impending feelings of doom.

  4. I would take early warning signs of anxiety and depression including chronic digestive upset more seriously. This would include seeking support from a dietician.

  5. I would seek mental health help sooner. (In fact, I’d ideally seek mental health help before or at least in addition to pharmaceutical support.

  6. I would seek a second opinion.

  7. I would read as much as possible on antidepressants: How they work, side effects to watch for, and alternatives to try first. If I don’t understand, I’d ask the prescribing doctor these questions, and get them to explain it until I do.

  8. I would not attempt to treat side effects of one medication with another.

  9. If I chose medication, I would keep the medication somewhere both secure and hidden.

  10. I would not bring the bottle of pills to sleepovers no matter how mature I felt I was (this occurred later on in my teens). Instead, I would send the dose needed for the time spent away from home. This reduces the risk of partying and taking excess pills and sharing pills with friends. Your 12 Biggest Antidepressant Problems, Solved

  11. I would ask what in the family environment or family system could be contributing to the beginning of symptoms or their persistence (ie., Was there a recent triggering event such a divorce, death, or other major loss or traumatic event or is it more of a complex post traumatic injury)?

  12. I would seek to change environmental triggers contributing to complex trauma (e.g., complex trauma includes someone in the home having an active addiction or living in an environment of violence or financial trauma, etc.)

  13. If a change for the positive happened, I’d recognize all changes are stressful (even for adults!) and acknowledge the truth that increased or chronic stress can contribute to sucidality.

  14. I would be a role model for healthy eating, healthy sleeping, healthy physical activity, and healthy coping.

  15. I would read and listen to articles and blog posts like this from people with lived experiences and people who have spent their lives trying to find answers.

  16. I would ask what I thought may help - and I would listen to that answer - and weigh it seriously against potential drawbacks before deciding to implement it.

  17. I would avoid saying unhelpful things like, “Other people have it worse,” “You’re lucky and should be grateful,” and “You have nothing to be sad about.” Why? Because these statements don’t help, they come across as judgemental, and they work to reinforce all the things depression already tells people anyway (ie., You have no reason to feel this way; your feelings are not valid; your feelings are a burden to yourself and others).

  18. I would admit fear, and I would remind them they are loved no matter what their mood is like, and that I don’t want them to hurt themselves or to unalive themselves.

  19. I would read about responsible speaking on suicide to make sure I’m up-to-date on the safest ways to talk to kiddos about such a serious and sensitive topic.

  20. If my kiddo told me what they thought was wrong, I would actively listen and ask follow-up questions. I’d show interest. I would not assume they’re being dramatic, hormonal, or any other ageist or sexist trope.

  21. I’d keep checking-in and I’d do more than listen to how they feel, I’d observe what they may not be able to witness in themselves (ie., Are their sleeping patterns changing? Are their eating patterns changing? Are they quicker to anger than before? Before when?) I’d do my best to keep track of symptoms without judgment or pressure for them to resolve quickly. Check out the Suicide Prevention Guide, free to download.

  22. I’d remind myself that while my child is not a burden, parenting a kiddo with suicidal thinking can be a form of traumatic stress on its own, and I’d seek support for myself, too.

If you are in crisis, please call the suicide hotline in Canada at 1.833.456.4566 or text 45645.

For more information on Prevention Suicide in Canada, please visit:

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