When a Close Friend, Relative or Spouse is Suffering From Depression

Each and every person in our society today will experience some form of depression in his or her lifetime. Studies show more than 21 million Americans battle depression everyday. Their ranks grow daily. Depression ruins families, relationships, and friendships. The illness not only affects the afflicted, but their loved ones as well. It is a disease whose ability to infect equals that of any plague documented throughout history. It is a direct by product of the ever accelerating speed, growth and demands of today’s world. Too many undergo the stress of coming home to someone prone to crying spells and sleepless nights. They share the agony of a person lost in hopelessness and despair unable to grasp the love that surrounds them. Yet, there lacks an awareness of depression’s contagion. Caught up in some form of the caretaker role, the helper becomes collateral damage. Many times they become confused and or overwhelmed. They crave as Dr. Richard O’Connor relates in “Undoing Depression”, his book, “The need to understand what is happening to me.” Seldom do they seek out the answers. They are the strong ones. They are the silent majority of the 21st century.

As serious as the affliction may be for the sufferer, those closely associated remain at risk emotionally and psychologically. Most do not recognize that they not only have to obtain help for their loved one, but themselves as well. As Dr. O’Connor later underscores in his introduction, “Some families will come to grips with distressing truths about themselves.” At times when we think we might be helping, the reality reflects contrary even given the best of intentions. With some forms of depressions such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) the non-BPD person due to the psychological fallout will linger in an abusive environment for years. A phenomenon documented in the book “Stop Walking on Eggshells; Coping When Someone You Care about Has Borderline Personality Disorder:” by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger

Some signs of depression are:

  • Dysfunctional sleep patterns
  • Flawed thinking or concentration
  • Uncharacteristic weight loss or gain
  • Frequent agitation
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Prone to the reoccurrence of odd mishaps
  • Expressions of helplessness
  • Lingering sadness or crying spells
  • Diminished or increased interest in sex
  • Fixation on death or suicide
  • Other symptoms may include loss of interest in normal activities, hopelessness and or crying spells.

When associating with a depressed person there develops a bond, which forms the victim-helper relationship. The victim being the depression afflicted person. The helper is the person who assumes the role as some sort of caretaker. In the formation of this link the helper almost always builds a mindset that can be compared to the maternal or paternal of a parent. One of the prevailing attributes is a sense of dominance in being “the strong one.” Sometimes the strong one even goes so far as to evolve a martyr complex fed by the depressed ones increasing dependence. In the course of which the normally self-reliant person may become absorbed into a parasitic situation dominated by the affectations of the depression gripping the other. Along the line the victims who at the start expressed overwhelming appreciation and affection diminishes the return of gratification.

The cycle can be compared to “The Quicksand Effect.” The more you struggle to help, the faster you get sucked in. What happens is priorities have shifted to the afflicted from those of your own. In an effort to be the strong one you begin to neglect your needs in favor of theirs. Your priority becomes the maintenance of the caretaker role. You have decreasing contact with the positive relationships that once existed in your life. In the process what you don’t see are the changes in you perceptions and outlooks. Life as you once knew it becomes remote Health wise you may experience frequent symptoms of fatigue, colds, or headache. With this breeds resentment and discontent toward a relationship you once valued. Yet, in many cases the sense of devotion lingers while erosion of positive emotions toward the other person begins. There is no self-realization that you are now fallen prey to the contagion of depression.

If you choose to remain in an intimate or close relationship with a depressed person, there are ways to maintain your own sense of self.

  • Maintain your own periods of daily self time
  • Exercise regularly even if it is just a walk down the block and back.
  • Actively work to maintain affiliations outside the relationship (Be aware many times involvement with an openly depressed person may cause a rift among other friends who are uncomfortable or disapproving. Also the depressed person may perceive this as threat. Nevertheless, this step is crucial for your own self-care.)
  • Seek support groups preferably in person (Online support groups should be used as a secondary and not primary tool. Person to person contact yields a greater sense of affirmation and camaraderie.)
  • Read positive and uplifting books and materials
  • Watch uplifting movies or television programs

If you suspect or know someone with depression seek professional help not only for the afflicted, but yourself as well. Awareness and knowledge are powerful tools in the fight against the disease. For more information online visit sites such as www.depressionhurts.com, www.familyaware.org. and www.mentalhealth.org. To learn more connecting with a loved one stricken with depression read books like Claudia J. Strauss’, “Talking to Depression.”

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