Depression & Child Abuse: What’s the Connection?

When a person is depressed they may look at the world in a negative way. This is usually referred to as pessimism. To the person suffering from depression, getting up every day hardly seems worth the trouble, they feel sadness, lack energy, aren’t interested in everyday activities, and feel helpless and hopeless. Battling depression is hard enough in today’s world, and people may become pessimistic in order to avoid feeling any kind of disappointment in their lives. The intense feelings associated with depression can be very overwhelming and can lead to low self-esteem, self-blame, and unworthiness.

So you ask, “How does this relate to child abuse?”

Children who live in a home that is abusive – whether it is emotional, physical, or sexual – have a sense of feeling trapped. They feel helpless and hopeless, therefore creating a natural defense for their emotions. Here are some examples:

  • When a child feels excited about something but are let down over and over again, after a while they will learn to stop getting excited about things. They will learn to say to themselves, “Why bother, it won’t happen anyway.” When growing into adulthood they will never expect good things, and eventually will push away good things because they figure it will go away, or be used against them.
  • A child will eventually stop trying to do things, especially things that they not only get excited about but also that require some kind of work or effort on their part. They think that their efforts will lead to negative outcomes, so they stop trying.
  • A pessimistic outlook on life is a defense to negative outcomes in their childhood; they have no reason to believe that anything they do will lead to something positive so they learn to feel hopeless.
  • Children who are abused will almost always self blame. They believe that there must be something wrong with themselves and that is why their parents or others treat them badly. This creates low self-esteem, and the abuser will continue to tell the child it is their fault; children tend to believe the abuser therefore feel responsible for the abuse.

Depression and Grief:

A person who suffered from childhood abuse may have many reasons for feeling sad. One of these reasons could be grieving a loss that is directly related to their experience of trauma. This may be feelings of grief for missing out on a happy childhood, or missing out on a loving parent. They may also feel sadness at the loss of their own innocence. This is part of the depression that an adult survivor is dealing with on a day to day basis. It is very hard to explain when someone asks you why you feel down; you may feel helpless to describe why you feel the way you do. This may be related to a sense of loss caused by childhood abuse. Many learn of this when in therapy which helps them to explain and understand why they feel sad and helps during the healing process.

After a Clinical Depression Diagnosis

Now you are an adult and have been diagnosed with Clinical Depression. The next question should be, “How do I manage my depression, and what treatment is there for me?”

As an adult who survived abuse as a child, it is expected that you feel depressed. Some may find that their depression comes and goes but it always seems to return. Sometimes depression can come with physical self-injury or self-destructiveness, and even suicidal thoughts. This may be because a child who is so angry at the abuser and too afraid to take their anger out on the abuser, will turn on themselves.

Depression is very serious and a person suffering from depression should seek therapy as soon as possible: battling depression alone can be very difficult. Here are some helpful tips for those who suffer:

  • Exercise your body when you can, this gets your endorphins going and will allow you to feel happier.
  • Treat yourself to good things, plan ahead to spend time with loved ones, and follow through with it.
  • Make short term small goals for yourself, this will give you a sense of accomplishment.
  • Learn to identify common feelings and thoughts that come with the depression, try to talk through them.
  • Find treatment that feels right for you, this could mean individual or group therapy. This will help find the underlying causes of your depression.
  • Get medication if your doctor thinks it is necessary for you to do so, there are many improved anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications that may help you, and therapy is recommended as well.