Depressed and struggling mothers need help — for their recovery and for their kids to grow up healthily.

The long school holidays are coming to an end (hashtag huzzah). They have been, er, fun. Did you know Ironhide is an Autobot who has a grenade launcher and a plasma gun?

Stampycat's friend is called Eyeballistic Squid. AFK stands for Away From Keyboard. But TBH (to be honest) the holidays have also been a bit of a struggle at times. Me and my kids stayed home but I tried to take them on an outing every day.

Not easy, as all they wanted was to have what we call a "lazy day" which involves little but wearing pyjamas and eating extruded cheese-flavoured corn snacks.

Cue crippling Mother Guilt. As regular readers of this column will know I had an episode of depression last year. It took five months until I discovered an anti-depressant that worked for me.


Almost overnight I felt normal again, and started to enjoy even small pleasures; not just being with my children but savouring muesli with yoghurt and blueberries for breakfast, scootering to the swings, watching Broadchurch, making cupcakes that were as much icing as cake.

But the episode has left me worried, and yes, guilty, about how I may have damaged my children during the time I was depressed.

Being sad makes you brattishly self-obsessed, whereas, to quote Iris Murdoch, "love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real".

A lot of the time I was on autopilot. The time is a blur and not only because I drank too much, seeking oblivion. Grief like that is scary. CS Lewis: "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."

But the feelings had to have their time. That cheery fellow Thomas Mann said: "Certain conquests made by the soul and mind are impossible without disease, madness and crime of the spirit."

Great for me, but what do these crimes of the spirit do to kids? I know even brief periods of childhood stress and mild strains on the mother-child relationship can have lasting consequences on our neurochemistry.

My research was both reassuring and alarming. One major Australian study found having a depressed mother has a significant negative effect on adolescents - leading them to become depressed themselves or develop a mental illness - but only if the mother's depression was combined with chronic lifestyle problems, like joblessness, being transient or living in crime-ridden neighbourhoods.

The study found if these chronic societal problems are not present, but there are other one-off stressors, the kids did not react any worse to these one-off stressors than kids of non-depressed mothers. For middle class women like me this is both heartening and shame-provoking. I am very lucky to have a functioning life and support network including a helpful ex-husband and wonderful family and friends. That means life for my children carried on pretty much as before, regardless of my depression.


What is it like for depressed mothers who don't have my advantages? Not only are they depressed but their kids, already likely to have a genetic predisposition for depression, are also more likely in turn to develop mental illness in adolescence.

We should be making sure these mothers are getting treatment because it is not only for them, but an investment in the health of their kids. But never fear, being middle class has its own neuroses.

The latest research finds you also have to be careful not to care "too much" - the tendency of parents worried about their kids possibly developing a mental illness to become over-involved and overly emotional is what psychologists call "high-expressed emotion".

An atmosphere of "high-expressed emotion" multiplies the likelihood of tipping a child into mental illness. Help.

I cling to the comforting notion of influential psychologist Donald Winnicott. He said a mother doesn't have to be perfect for her children to grow up securely attached and stable, just to be "good enough". Sigh.

Okay kids, you can play Minecraft and eat Twisties, just one more time. You'll be out of your jarmies and back to school soon enough.


Govt fails own initiative

When I was on my kids' school board of trustees, we heard a lot from the Government about preparing children for a different kind of future - inquiry-based teaching, creativity, innovation, digital capabilities and visible learning.

I gathered the philosophy involved encouraging kids to make new connections between subjects and follow topics they are interested in into new and creative realms or ways of expression. So I was surprised to hear that from Term 3 the National Library is closing its service allowing teachers to request books on a specific topic they are studying. Last year 16,000 teachers made 40,000 requests and received more than one million items.

Teachers have been told they can now use "curated online resources" instead. They say they were not consulted about the move, which will hit rural and technology-poor schools the hardest.

The Government must back down on this dumb-headed plan.