DEAR ABBY: Chills went through my body as I read the letter from "Torn in N.Y." asking if she should tell her children about their father's suicide. I quickly scanned to the bottom to see who had sent it. I was sure it was from someone I knew.
In 1978, my grandfather, with whom I was very close, committed suicide. I was only 4, and to ease the pain my parents told me he had "accidentally" killed himself. I never questioned their word.
One day in second grade, I was riding a bus to school. Another girl asked me if it was my grandfather who had killed himself. I adamantly denied it, but could think of little else the entire day.
When I returned home, my mother said we could talk about it when my dad got home from work. I'll never forget the looks on their faces when I asked if it was true. Yes, it was true, and it broke my heart. I cried for days, unable to understand why my grandfather would have killed himself.
I soon came to understand the depression from which he and many others in his family had suffered. He was not alone in committing suicide. His father, brother and sister had also taken their own lives. My father also battled with depression.
As I reached adolescence, I, too, became depressed. Talking with my family helped alleviate the pain I felt. I urge the mother of those preteens to tell the children the truth. The truth will set them free.
I wish my parents had told me the truth in the beginning. But I am glad I found out when I was young. I pray daily for my extended family members, who also suffer from depression, to seek help and talk with their families about it. As my mother says, "A family is only as sick as its secrets." -- KNOWING IN THE NORTHWEST
DEAR KNOWING: Thank you for sharing your firsthand experience. One of the problems with depression is that people often don't realize they have it, and therefore they don't seek help for it. It is not a "weakness." It can be a very serious health problem.
Depression can affect the entire body. The symptoms can include vague physical complaints, including a host of sleep and eating disturbances, coupled with loss of enjoyment in activities formerly pleasurable. It can affect the way people feel about themselves and the way they perceive everyday events. Persistent sadness, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and anxiety, and withdrawal from friends and activities may be signs of depression.
A depressive illness is NOT a passing "blue" mood. While it's normal to feel sad or moody once in a while, if this feeling lasts for more than two weeks, the problem could be depression.
The good news is that between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression can be successfully treated with counseling and/or medication. It is very important to talk with someone to determine if you have depression and where to seek help.
To learn more about depression, its signs and treatment, call your local mental health association or the National Mental Health Association: (800) 969-6642.
Children and teens who are experiencing depression should discuss it with their parents or school nurse.