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Review of "Why Are You So Sad?"

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?

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 understand:

·        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. 

© 2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

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