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Depression / Blog

    Allison Cohen, MA, MFT

Allison Cohen, MA, MFT's Bio

Marriage and family therapist working to bring out our "best selves."

Depression: A Family Affair


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I've never been a fan of statistics. They can serve as interesting fodder at a cocktail party but the information never accounts for variances, under-reporting and a host of issues behind the scenes that never get revealed. That being said, when you begin to examine the numbers of those struggling with depression, you start to see that this is truly a national (and even global) issue. The Center for Disease Control notes that one in 10 Americans will be affected, but this doesn’t account for how this insidious disease impacts the rest of the sufferer’s world. When a spouse, family member, friend or colleague is clinically depressed, the effect reverberates throughout their entire nucleus. What do you do, if you are at the center of the storm, watching your partner or loved one plummeting into a sea of despair?

Use Your Resources – All those affected need support. It's imperative that you utilize the tools available to facilitate relief. Try seeking your own therapy to create an outlet for your emotions and get vital information that will educate you on the disease. Think about sharing your journey with people you trust and ask them to step in when you need a break. Meditate. Breathe Deeply. Participate in your favorite hobbies. Journal your feelings and even acknowledge to yourself that this is a trying period. Denial exacerbates the struggle and help will be your salvation. If cost is an issue, seek out support groups to connect with others that share your trials or contact a low fee mental health clinic that offers sliding scale counseling.

Make a Choice to Let Go of the Guilt – It's crucial to understand that you didn't cause the depression. When someone we love hurts, we hurt too. That pain can cloud our decision-making and ability to reason, blinding us to reality. We become convinced that if we had only done things differently, the situation wouldn’t have come to pass. This simply isn't true. While interactions are a dance between individuals, depression's root cause is either chemical, situational or both. If you weren't in the picture, your loved one would still have the same coping mechanisms and/or genetics that lead them to feel overwhelmed to begin with. In short: different situation, same outcome. If you find that you aren't able to fully let go of the feeling that you caused their depression, try viewing it as unproductive or unhelpful. In a quiet moment, ask yourself what you think holding onto the guilt actually does for you. Are you gaining any benefit from it? You'll soon see that it's more of a hindrance than a help. 

Remember That This is Not a Logical Disease –When examining the sufferer's world, you might be perplexed as to why they don't appreciate or love their life when it seems to be so beautiful. Depression isn’t based in logic. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It wreaks havoc on perspective, robs the individual of experiencing joy, obscures perception and ultimately creates distorted beliefs about the world and value of life. You cannot argue it or talk someone out of it. They need treatment and resources that a non-professional simply cannot provide. For someone in the throes of a major depressive episode, there is a perpetual dark cloud that taints every experience and thought. Could you be rational in such a state?

Tend to YOUR Needs Too – Maintaining your mental and physical health is not a luxury. It's a necessity. While the person you love may be engaged in a mental battlefield of pain, you are going through your own crusade as well. Of course the hope is that the person you love will be proactive enough to seek help. Research tells us that a combination of therapy and medication offer the greatest chance for recovery, but information isn’t enough. That person has to want to get better. Remember though, before you can be a support for them, you have to be your own advocate.

Ask yourself the following:

- Has THEIR recovery become your sole focus?

- Are you experiencing anxiety and/or your own bought of depression watching them struggle?

- Are you eating/sleeping well?

- Are you getting enough exercise?

- Have you become preoccupied with researching information and treatments on depression?

- Have you noticed that you are more reactive and angry over the little things

- Have you stopped activities, rituals and outings you love to be physically present with your loved one at all times?

- If you find yourself nodding in agreement, it's time to re-commit to the process of self care and better manage the personal needs you have been neglecting.

Find the Balance – Sufferers most certainly need help and patience but they do not benefit from a never-ending supply of understanding. While it may seem illogical, being too compassionate can actually do more harm than good. When someone is depressed they feel worthless and hopeless and seeing their loved one being overly supportive can make them feel worse, because they don't feel deserving of it. They may end up pushing you away and this can only lead to anger, resentment and confusion on your part. Further, being excessively accepting may unconsciously reduce their motivation to take action by creating a crutch or excuse for their behaviors. A diagnosis of depression is not a get out of jail free card. It is, however, an opportunity to heal for everyone. 

Adjust Your Expectations – Loving someone through their depression means creating a new, temporary normal. It's human to expect that treatment will provide instant relief. It’s human to be hurt or feel rejected when someone isn’t responding to you as they typically do. It’s human to personalize it by wondering what you’ve done wrong or how YOU have changed to elicit such a response. It's even human to wonder why they simply can't "snap out of it" or believe that if they loved you enough, they would appreciate you and get better.

Human, however, doesn't mean "constructive" or "accurate." Understand that healing and recovery take time and that your loved one isn’t functioning on all cylinders. This means that they cannot give to you like they typically do and this has to be okay, for now. Take an inventory of their emotional reserves and process what this means in terms of their day-to-day abilities. During a severe depressive period, simply getting out of bed and going to work is an accomplishment. In a lesser episode, they will be capable of more attention and focus. 

They say that depression isn't a sign of weakness, but instead, it's a signal that you've been strong for too long. This applies not only to the sufferer, but to the concepts of caregiver, partner, lover, friend and family member as well. There is hope and there is help for all involved. Depression may be a family affair but it doesn't have to ruin the party.

Originally published on YourTango.