Identifying and understanding depression can be difficult as an adult, so just imagine how complex the concept of mental health can be for a child. But children are impacted by depression, too, so it's important that, as parents, we discuss mental health with our children starting at a young age and in age-appropriate ways. Thankfully, there are a variety of children's books about depression that can help parents broach the subject with their children in a way they will understand.
An estimated 17.3 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in 2017, according to National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). (A "major depressive episode," as described by NIH, is "a period of at least two weeks when a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, and had a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, or self-worth.") Furthermore, as many as 3% of children ages 6 to 12, and 8% of teens, may have serious depression, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. So whether it's children learning how depression is impacting their parents, or learning how to deal with depression themselves, a source of stigma-busting, easy-to-understand information is key.
The following children’s books include narratives that center mental health, and depression in particular, so that parents can begin a dialogue in a safe, inclusive, informative way. Not only will these books help you, the parent, control how the conversation takes place, but they'll allow you to start the ongoing discussion from the comfort of your home.
1. 'Some Kind Of Happiness' by Claire Legrand
Some Kind of Happiness is an award-winning book that is perfect for middle school kids, but could also great for younger kids if you read along with them. The story follows Finley, who uses imagination and creativity to cope with heavy family issues while she's staying with her grandparents. This book even comes with a handy reading guide that includes discussion questions and activities to help families engage more deeply with the text.
2. 'Sad Days, Glad Days: A Story About Depression' by DeWitt Hamilton
Amanda wants a cat, but her mom isn't well enough to take care of one because she has depression. When Amanda starts to take care of a stray cat, she learns lessons about healing. Sad Days, Glad Days: A Story About Depression is a metaphor for navigating a relationship with someone battling depression, and a great way for parents to star their own conversation about how depression may be impacting them.
3. 'Blueloon' by Julia Cook
4. 'The Red Tree' by Shaun Tan
Aided by whimsical but dark illustrations, The Red Tree takes readers on a journey through a little girl’s mind as she copes with loneliness and worry. Hope comes in the form of a red leaf that follows her throughout her day, until the end where r readers learn that it's possible to experience growth and blossoming, despite being in pain.
5. 'Michael Rosen’s Sad Book' by Michael Rosen
6. 'The Color Thief: A Family's Story Of Depression' by Andrew Fusek Peters & Polly Peters
The Color Thief: A Family's Story of Depression is perfect for starting conversations about parents with depression. In it, we follow a boy trying to make sense of his father’s depression as he enters a world without color. The story takes us through so many emotions that kids may feel watching their parent cope with mental illness.
7. 'The Princess And The Fog: A Story For Children With Depression' by Lloyd Jones
The Princess And The Fog: A Story For Children With Depression teaches kids battling depression that there is hope. Funny, beautifully illustrated, and full of wonder and magic, this book is great for kids in elementary school who need a reminder that things can, and do, get better. It also includes a guide, created by clinical pediatric psychologists.
8. 'Why Are You So Sad?: A Child's Book About Parental Depression' by Beth Andrews
The title of this book says it all. Why Are You So Sad?: A Child's Book About Parental Depression covers important themes and issues surrounding mental health, like the multiple feelings people can feel while depressed, learning how to express your honest feelings, figuring out how to cope when your parent is struggling with depression, and reminding kids that they can learn tools to help them feel better. It's a transparent book with a hopeful tone that can help families as they explore what it means to cope and heal.
9. 'Can I Catch It Like A Cold?: Coping With A Parent's Depression' by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
Some symptoms of depression are difficult to understand, especially when you're a young child. In Can I Catch It Like A Cold?: Coping With a Parent's Depression, readers following young Alex as he questions why his dad sleeps so much, misses his soccer games, and doesn’t go to work anymore. Eventually, Alex feels less confused and alienated, thanks to the help of a loving and honest support network.
10. 'Living With A Black Dog' by Matthew & Ainsley Johnstone
In Living With A Black Dog, the titular “Black Dog” is a metaphor for depression itself. The book emphasizes the importance of opening up to others and connecting with people as a means of support. It shows kids that they're not alone in their struggles, and teaches them how to reach out for help so they can talk about their feelings.