The word depression can mean very different things to different people. When someone says “I feel depressed” to describe everyday blues that come and go, these transient blues are not what mental health professionals mean by the depression.
Generally, clinical depression refers to symptoms that significantly affect a person’s functioning and last for a substantial amount of time. Most of us go through periods of dysphoric moods with temporary symptoms of depression, but we continue to function normally and recover without professional treatment.
What causes depression?
Most mental health professionals agree that usually a number of factors, both biochemical and psychological, work together to trigger a depression. Some people, because of their biochemical and genetic makeup, are inherently more vulnerable to depression when they experience life stress than other people who face the same stressors. For example; siblings can grow up in the same household but respond to family dysfunction in completely different ways.
Depression is often missed by either patient or family members because it’s hard to identify. Diagnosing depression often goes hand-in-hand with other mental and physical illnesses. If someone has a physical problem, it could be easy for the depression to be overlooked.
How does your loved one’s depression affect you?
You may be so intent on helping the other person, that you become blind to ways in which you’re being affected.
As time goes by, your own mind and body can also become filled with negative feelings. As is often said, depression is depressing to be around.
Effect on Spouse
As the person closest to the depressed individual, the spouse is often affected first and most. He/she may notice the signs before anyone else; indeed, some people are so good at hiding the signs of their depression that their spouses are the only ones to ever know anything is wrong.
The spouse is also most invested in the depressed person’s happiness. This is a source of strength, insomuch as it gives the spouse reason to help the depressed individual. Unfortunately, it can also be hard on a spouse if treatment is refused or unsuccessful. Prior to a diagnosis, the spouse might feel that they’re a failure for not making their spouse feel happier.
Effect on Children
Children are very malleable. This can be a good thing because it allows them to more easily recover from traumatic experiences, but it also means they are more susceptible to negative emotional environments in the first place. Because they need more positive encouragement and attention as they grow, children are less likely to thrive when one or both parents are depressed.
Like the spouse, children may feel compelled to help take up the family activities that their depressed parent is neglecting, forcing them to “grow up early”. Also like the spouse, children of depressed parents are more likely to develop depression or other mental illnesses in childhood or later In life.
Effect on Extended Family
Away from the nuclear family, depression can still have effects. Family that lives far away may experience anxiety about not knowing how the depressed person is doing or fear of not being kept in the loop. Meanwhile, family that lives nearby may stop visiting due to the negative atmosphere. Concern over the children growing up in such an environment, while justified, can lead to confrontations and acrimony between family members.
Ultimately, if you are depressed, the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to seek or accept treatment. Don’t be afraid that you will not be able to take care of them while you take care of yourself. By focusing on your own healing, you are helping them.
It helps to think of the family as one entity. If one part (you) is sick, the whole suffers, and the emphasis should be on healing the sick part.