By Beth Andrews, illustrated by Nicole Wong Magination Press, 2002 Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Aug 5th 2004
Why Are You So Sad?A
Child's Book About Parental Depression is a short picture book for children
aged three to eight. It tells children to draw pictures, in the book, and
helps them to understand their parent's unusual behavior and the children's
reaction to it. The pictures are simple and appealing, and the text is
straightforward using simple language. The aim of the book is to help children
cope better with their parent's unhappiness. At the end of the book, there are
guidelines for parents about what to do to help their children through this
difficult time for the family.
When I was five years old, my
mother suffered severe postpartum depression after giving birth to my sister.
She was hospitalized for a few weeks. I cannot remember what I was told at the
time, but I expect that I was given very little explanation. I wonder whether
it would have been helpful for me to have had a book like Why Are You So
Sad? It's main messages is summarized in six points for children to
·Depression is a problem with feelings.
·It's not your fault.
·You can't fix it.
·It's okay to have whatever feelings you have about it.
·Your parent still loves you, and you still love your parent.
·There are lots and lots of things that you can do to help
yourself feel better.
I have no recollection whether I thought my mother's
problems were my fault or whether her love for me was in doubt. But I expect
that I just put my mother's withdrawal and absence down to her more general
unreliability and unavailability. My mother's postnatal depression was just
one part of her ongoing mood problems, and I doubt that I ever expected her to
be any different.
This reflection on my own history
makes me suspect that Why Are You So Sad? has limited use. It asks
children to draw pictures of their depressed parent, how their parent acts when
depressed, and what feelings the child has about this. But it treats
depression as a relatively temporary illness affecting one person, rather than
as a chronic problem that affects the whole family. The pictures assume the
family includes both a mother and a father, which will of course not apply to a
great many families -- probably parents with depression are more likely to
divorce or split than other families. What's more, even though people are more
willing to talk about depression now than they were in earlier times, many
families will still be reluctant to talk openly about a parent's depression and
are likely to refer to it in vague ways that are confusing to children. At
best, this little book will help children to start formulating their ideas
about their parent's emotional troubles; it could not possibly give then full
understanding of what is going on.
Nevertheless, Why Are You So
Sad? will probably be helpful to some children, especially if those looking
after the children prepare a little in working out what to say about depression
and the depressed parent's behavior. Most professionals seem to believe that
children are better off when such difficult topics are brought out into the
open and being given permission to express their feelings about the family
difficulties. The book's most helpful influence could be in clearing up
possible misunderstandings children have about depression.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at DowlingCollege, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.