Ask Ada: When Is It Too Soon To Worry About My Children Being Depressed?

Plus: how to shut people down when they ask inappropriate questions about your condition.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Are My Children Destined To Have My Mental Health Issues?

Dear Ada, 

My children’s mother killed herself when they were 3 and 4. She suffered from untreated mental health issues for most of her life. I also have a few mental health issues, namely OCD and occasional depressive episodes, but both conditions are well managed. The only thing I ever really obsess about these days are my children’s mental health. Are they destined for mental health issues too? They seem fine now. What age could this change? Can I be doing anything to prevent them from getting mental health issues in the future?

I can’t tell you whether or not your children are “destined” for mental health issues. Yes, there is some research that suggests mental health disorders are genetic, but there’s so much more that influences a person than just genetics.

In an article for the National Society of Genetic Counselors, Jehannine C. Austin, PhD, MSc, CGC, CCGC, states, “Mental illnesses are complex disorders – that is, they arise as a result of genetic and environmental factors acting together.”

“Mental illnesses are complex disorders – that is, they arise as a result of genetic and environmental factors acting together.”

You mention that your children seem fine now. I’m so happy to hear that. You ask at what age they may change. The truth? It could happen at any time. 

Take bipolar disorder as an example. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports, “The average age-of-onset is about 25, but it can occur in the teens, or more uncommonly, in childhood.” Other conditions, like anxiety, are commonly diagnosed in children.

The key thing to remember is that just because there happens to be a genetic chance that your children may inherit mental health conditions, it doesn’t mean that they actually will. 

The best thing you can do for your children is be involved. Know your own children’s mental health baseline, and stay alert when they stray from what’s normal for them. Don’t worry yourself at the smallest sign of feeling down or anxious. Your children have lived through a traumatizing event, and they’ll have to work through these feelings which may be apparent now or show themselves at a later date.

Just because there happens to be a genetic chance that your children may inherit mental health conditions, it doesn’t mean that they actually will. 

I’d hope that following the death of their mother, your children were given access to a counselor who could help them work through their overwhelming feelings. To ease some of your worry, and to set your children up for success, it’s best that their therapeutic relationship with a counselor continue into the long-term future.

As for your role, remove the stigma from talking about mental health, and make it something commonly discussed in your home. One of the best gifts you can give your children is a healthy dialogue about physical and mental health. If you’re not feeling “right”, tell them that you’re working through your feelings, and because kids often internalize their parents feelings and moods, you can remind them that your feelings aren’t related to them or something they did.

You’re a self-aware parent. Maybe even more so than other parents because of your struggles and the loss of your children’s mother. So long as you can determine their baseline, you’ll be prepared to notice any changes, and you can bring those up with their counselors immediately.


People Are Nosy About My Colostomy Bag

Dear Ada,

I’m in my 30s and a few years ago, I needed surgery that in turn created the need for a permanent colostomy bag. It’s been a tough road. I’ve always cared about my appearance more than some of my friends, and adjusting to the colostomy bag was mentally tough on me. But now I’m in a good place and have accepted that this is permanent. I’m not as embarrassed, and I’m feeling pretty okay about all. 

However, the one thing I struggle with is the unfiltered and unwelcome questions I seem to get from EVERYONE about living with a colostomy bag. These come from friends, acquaintances who find out about my situation, one even medical professionals. I’m badgered about every topic possible, from what it’s like to change my bags even what it’s like to be intimate with my partner. This isn’t a life I signed up for. It’s a life I’ve accepted. But I certainly do not want to play the role of a colostomy bag public service announcement. How do I get people to back off and stop bothering me with personal questions?

Be direct.

By setting boundaries and firmly replying that you won’t tolerate answering the questions you’re asked, you’re in turn training the people in your life what is appropriate to ask of you, and what is not. 

If people are asking you a lot of questions, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either:

1) These people feel safe around you and you have the type of relationship where candid information is shared from both sides, or…

2) The people in your life don’t have the common sense or courtesy not to intrude on your personal life. They have unhealthy boundaries in all areas of their lives, and not many people correct them when they exhibit these bad behaviors.

I don’t know whether you have more ones or twos in your life, but I highly suggest limiting your exposure to the people who fall in the second category. 

But let’s get back to actionable advice. 

Take, for example, a scenario in which acquaintance asks you how to change your colostomy bag. You can respond by saying, “I understand you’re curious, but I’d rather not talk about it.” If they continue, call them out directly on being inappropriate. Say: “Questions about my bodily functions simply aren’t appropriate.”

It is not your responsibility to educate the masses on what your life with a colostomy bag is like.

This is especially the case of whomever asked you for details about your sex life. It is not your responsibility to educate the masses on what your life with a colostomy bag is like. And it is quite rude of the people in your life to think they should have access to your private, intimate moments. Again — be direct. Remind them that you aren’t asking them about the technicalities of how they approach sex with their patner, and that it’s no ones business of what happens between the sheets in any relationship.

If you’re worried that this would be more difficult to do with a friend, especially if you’ve answered their questions in the past and they are approaching you with something new — don’t stress. You have two options here. Plan ahead, and send a quick message stating that while you’re grateful for the relationship you too have, you no longer want to discuss your physical condition in the future. Or, in the moment of a question, respond by saying that you’re tired of talking about your colostomy bag. That you’re more than your physical conditions and you hope the relationship can focus on other topics in the future.

The truth of the matter is this: there is enough information online that any respectable person could easily search for the answers to these questions themselves without having to force you into answering their questions. Remind them of that.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem