Depression has become the leading psychological illness in the United States. It is so prevalent that nearly everyone has been affected by it, either through personal experience or through depression in a family member or a friend. There is no way to measure the toll it takes on all these lives. It interferes with someone’s ability to function, causing problems at work and home, as well as with family and friends. The pain and suffering caused by depression is not limited to the person with the diagnosis; it also impacts his/her loved ones.
Most people with this disease have moments of intense irritability. Family members walk on eggshells, exercising extreme caution so as to not do or say anything that could irritate the depressed person. If by some chance the family is not successful, the consequences are awful. The depressed person will say and do hurtful things to his/her family. On some level the person with depression realizes that what is coming out of his/her mouth is hurting family members, but due to how the disease affects the brain he/she is unable to stop.
Withdrawing from people is a common sign of depression. Most family members do not realize this and take the withdrawal as a personal rejection. When this happens everyone in the family is hurt and confused, wondering if they did something wrong to cause the rejection. Spouses feel as if they are losing their partner, while children feel as if they have been abandoned by their parents. The other parent then feels obligated to try and make up for the hurt the depressed parent has inadvertently caused, which adds more stress to the family dynamic.
The healthy partner in the relationship is left to take on the responsibilities that the spouse can no longer manage. Working all day and having to come home and take care of house hold chores and children, while the depressed person sits on the couch or lays in bed, breeds resentment. It is hard for family members to understand that in cases of severe depression, a person’s ability to perform day to day tasks is greatly reduced. If the person with depression once held a job, it is left up to family to learn how to cope with a loss of income.
The stress that this illness places on families is so intense that it often causes them to disintegrate. It causes emotional scars that can last a lifetime. However, some families come through an experience with depression, happier and healthier than before the depressive episode started. The determining factors for a family staying together are usually the spouse’s commitment to the loved one and acknowledging that the whole family has to get healthier in order for the person with depression to improve.