Depression can be an isolating experience. However, the support of parents can help an adult child with depression communicate, develop independence, cultivate self-esteem, and seek treatment.

Raising a child means helping create an adult who can manage their own complexities, including health conditions. One of these conditions can be depression.

Depression is a common mental health condition. It causes a loss of hope, ongoing low mood, and reduced interest in activities a person formerly enjoyed.

Adult children with depression may need the support of their parents or caregivers, while also needing the space to manage depression in their own time and on their own terms.

This article provides guidance on navigating this balance.

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Helping a person feel independent and empowered is a key step in connecting them with the care they need for depression.

People experiencing depression may not accept help at first. They may be feeling hopeless, worthless, and guilty. This may contribute to a belief that they should be able to help themselves but a sense of discouragement that they cannot. Recovery may not feel like reality for them.

However, the following approaches may help an adult child feel supported, seen, and treatable, as well as provide a sense of control over their own treatment journey:

  • Affirm support: Let them know they have a support system and a safe place to talk about how they are feeling. Ask them what would help, without assuming what they may need, before they answer.
  • Spend time with them: Touch base about their feelings in a place with as few distractions as possible and without forcing them to socialize. Keep in mind that oftentimes, listening to them can be more important than offering advice.
  • Be patient: A person with depression may find it difficult to acknowledge a problem, find asking for help difficult, or repeat themselves. Demonstrate that they have long-term support by showing patience.
  • Support their self-care measures: Ensure that they regularly eat healthy food and stay hydrated. Encourage them to get outside, and engage in physical activity with them. Take part in fun activities that reduce the chance of alcohol or drug use. It may even help to work out a timetable or routine with them.
  • Encourage them to seek treatment: Reassurance that they have a medical condition and can recover may help them realize that they can manage their treatment journey and pursue help when they are ready.

Learn more about depression.

Finding a support network can be an important part of treatment for depression.

A 2021 study found that being part of an online peer support community called Depression Connect helped users feel more empowerment, belonging, and emotional growth.

An adult child may not feel comfortable discussing their feelings with their parents or caregivers, fearing that they may judge or not understand.

If a parent or caregiver connects them with a support group instead, it may help the adult child feel proactive and pursue formal treatment without creating further discomfort.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a database of support groups. Parents and caregivers can show NAMI’s finder tool to their adult child to help them connect with people going through similar experiences.

Read about how depression feels.

Though parents and caregivers may wish to, they cannot fix depression for their adult children.

Taking care of an adult child with depression means that the child also needs to take accountability for their self-care, treatment journey, and progress, no matter how much support the parent is willing and able to provide.

Parents and caregivers may find it difficult to focus on their own needs during a time in which their child needs them. However, it can be important to establish boundaries so that the child feels more confident in their independence.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers the following tips:

  • Parents and caregivers should give themselves permission to prioritize their own needs, be aware of what those needs are, and identify their limits.
  • Clearly but calmly communicate when the child crosses those boundaries. No justification is necessary, and parents should not feel any guilt about having personal boundaries.
  • Start with small boundaries, such as offering a helpful tool instead of completing a task for the child. Then, move on to more significant ones, such as setting a time frame and expectations for starting a new job search.

An effective way to help an adult child update a parent or caregiver on treatment is for the parent to engage with the process by helping. A parent or caregiver can:

  • make the initial appointment
  • drop them off at the appointment
  • attend with them (if the adult child is comfortable)

Asking regularly about how they feel without applying pressure, criticism, or expectations can help their child feel comfortable sharing about the process.

Parents or caregivers can also try to maintain a level of normalcy, resuming regular activities they would usually be doing with their child, like watching TV or walking the dog together.

The recovery journey is important, but it should not become the center of the parent-child relationship where possible.

The stigma around mental illness can be a barrier to treatment for those who need it and prevent their families from providing much-needed support, according to the American Psychiatric Association. The stigma may further reduce hope, self-esteem, and success in relationships.

Parents or caregivers should equip themselves with knowledge about depression, how it develops, its effects, and what treatment options might be available to their child.

Read more about mental health stigma.

If an adult child lives away from home, it can be more difficult to monitor how they are feeling and gauge their progress on their depression treatment journey.

The following steps from the PA Parent and Family Alliance can help maintain the connection and allow a parent ways to check in without reducing independence or self-empowerment:

  • Reaffirm an open line of communication: Parents should let children who no longer live with them know that they can be open about their mental health challenges. Sometimes, gauging how frequently they want to talk can be difficult. It can help to establish a time frame for catching up, such as weekly.
  • Keep some check-ins light: Light-hearted pictures, messages, videos, or memes can maintain connection and contact without placing a heavy burden on an adult child with depression. They may not respond, but let them know it is OK as long as they acknowledge the message another way.
  • Parents should talk about their own mental health: Discussing stressors, worries, and sadness helps give the child something to relate to and encourages openness. This can also reduce any awkwardness around a serious topic.
  • Stay in touch with others around the adult child: Parents should make sure roommates, partners, friends, or neighbors have their number to flag when the adult child is having a difficult time.
  • Provide some tools or gifts that make low energy periods easier: Consider ordering or delivering some ready-to-cook or frozen meals and healthy snacks they can easily eat when they are low on energy or motivation. You can also help them set up autopay on bills to remove another task for them.

Helping an adult child understand their options may give them hope that the depression can become manageable. Depression treatment often involves a combination of medication and therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy.

Lifestyle measures, including regular exercise, consistent bedtimes, and a balanced diet, can help people manage depression outside of clinical treatment.

Learn more about therapies and medications for depression.

Depression resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on depression.

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Supporting an adult child with depression centers around helping them feel connected, independent, and empowered. This can involve reaching out, listening, and making certain aspects of life, such as mealtimes, a little easier for them when they ask for help.

As a parent or caregiver, nurturing their steps toward seeking professional care and giving them hope that depression is treatable is important. Education about the condition and providing support group contacts can help them take the necessary steps.