Taking care of a depressed person is often very stressful and frustrating. Many close to a depressed person have tried everything they know in order to get the person to seek help. They have also struggled with trying to make things better for the depressed person, often to the point of their own exhaustion. Sometimes, caretakers become depressed themselves as they find their efforts have made little difference. Family and friends of depressed people miss the former person they knew. They see the dark cloud of depression not only affecting the person’s life, work and family, but they see it eating away at their own relationship as well.
Those close to a depressed person often struggle with their own feelings toward that person. Feelings of concern, frustration and fear combined with futile efforts to make things better can lead to stronger feelings of anger, helplessness, despair, resentment and guilt. Please know these feelings are very normal. No one can make another person get help for depression and no one can take away another person’s depression.
People who are depressed may behave in ways uncharacteristic for them when they are not depressed. It is not uncommon for a depressed person to be irritable, angry, argumentative, withdrawn, unmotivated, lethargic and self-defeating. They may say things that are hurtful, harsh, irrational or unusual. For those who are not depressed, these behaviors are hard to understand and very difficult to bear.
As a relative or friend of a depressed person you should pay attention to your own feelings. If you find that you are feeling overwhelmed, overly frustrated, depressed, anxious, exhausted, or guilty, then it is time to start taking better care of yourself. You cannot help another person if you are struggling yourself.
Please remember your feelings and reactions are normal. It is essential to take good care of yourself. Friends and family of those who are depressed experience a range of emotions from compassion and empathy to anger, frustration and even hatred. These feelings can be expected since it is very difficult not to take personally a depressed person’s behaviors. A depressed person’s life is being negatively affected by depression, but so is yours.
You don’t have to be alone. Dealing with depression on your own can be a lonely and isolating task. Your friends may not understand, yet you need the support of others. Depression is a common illness, and there are many others who also have a depressed person in their lives. You may wish to join a support group and connect with others who understand your struggles. Talking about your feelings, getting the issues out in the open in itself can help relieve you of some of the stress just knowing others are there to listen and support you as well.
Please remember it’s not your fault. It is not uncommon for family and friends of depressed people to feel guilty or wonder if they hold some responsibility for another person’s depression. Depression does not occur because of anything you say or do. Depression is a medical condition, like diabetes or heart disease, that needs to be treated.
Your feelings will change with time. Family and friends of depressed people go through various emotional phases. Initial reactions include disbelief or denial. It may seem that depression will just magically go away if it goes unacknowledged. After some time, people may experience some anger or resentment that life as they know it has changed. People also may feel grief that the person they once knew seems lost to them. After a depressed person seeks treatment and begins to feel better, family and friends often feel relieved and lucky or blessed that things are improving again.
But don’t lose hope. Depression is a very treatable illness! Psychotherapy and/or medication have been shown to be quite effective. 80% or more of those who seek help for treatment can feel better within several weeks.
Take good care of yourself. You need to set boundaries and limits on how much you can and will do. This is a healthy and necessary thing to do. And it is okay to take a vacation from caretaking once in a while. Schedule time for yourself and do things that bring you enjoyment and satisfaction to keep yourself healthy. This is not being “selfish,” it is being healthy and compassionate towards yourself. You may also choose to seek counseling in order to have a place to process and manage your own feelings.
Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. — Khalil Gibran
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