Recently, Maia Szalavitz, a health writer for Time magazine, wrote about a study which revealed that depression led to bullying and victimization. One conclusion suggested by the researchers was that children should be taught to be kinder to those who are already feeling low.
Being a parent myself, I thought this conclusion was a no-brainer. But as I thought about it I realized their suggestion carries a great deal of validity. There are too many parents today who do not teach their children the value of kindness toward others. Instead children are taught a sense of entitlement; a sense that they come first – always. They’re taught to emulate the hurtful remarks they see on television or in movies. That mindset leaves no room for concern for others who experience the feelings associated with depression. It leaves little room for kindness and understanding. And often this sets the stage for bullying.
If my child gave the indication that he or she was having a hard time or was experiencing depression, I would see it as most important to seek professional help as well as help from the community. I would watch for any sign of bullying, any sign that my child was not getting the support and compassion needed during a time of depression. Some of those signs might include:
- coming home with damaged or missing clothing or belongings,
- unexplained injuries,
- frequent complaints of being sick,
- frequent bad dreams,
- extreme hunger after school from not eating lunch,
- no interest in playing with or visiting friends,
- fear of going to school
- doing poorly in school,
- talking of suicide,
- taking the blame for other people’s problems,
- avoiding certain places, and
- just acting differently.
And those are just a few of the things a parent with a child with depression or in danger of bullying has to look for.
Often, we are too busy living our lives to really be attentive to the life of our child. At a time of depression, it is imperative that we be present, alert and ready to marshal the troops, our community, to not let the craziness of our society triumph.
As hard as it might be, it is important that we teach our kids – and ourselves – that depression is a very serious illness that creates a great deal of pain, not only in the person with depression but in those who care about that person. It is simply wrong to make light of a person’s sorrow, to use depression as a springboard for bullying or an opportunity to feel better at the expense of another.
We need to become kinder and more gentle people. We need to put ourselves in the place of others and develop a capacity for empathy. When we are able to care about how others might feel, we will be able to reduce the staggering statistics that proclaim one in ten people in the U.S. are depressed. As the study said, we all need to be kinder to those who are already feeling low.