An inside view on how depression can not only effect the person diagnosed, but the people around them also.
Everybody can feel ‘down’ sometimes, it’s just a normal part of life. But the feeling of being lifeless, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel won’t go away, that’s what depression is. It takes over a persons life, making them feel worthless and in some cases unable to continue living, which is why depression and suicide are so closely linked.
I think everyone will agree that depression is a horrible illness to be diagnosed with, and the effects it has on the person. But what people never think of is how depression can affect the people close to the person who has been diagnosed. Obviously it has an effect on their lives too.
I spoke with a woman (who will remain anonymous) who’s sister was diagnosed with depression when she was just thirteen years old. I asked her what life was like, growing up with a sister who suffered from depression. She replied with “Unpredictable. You never knew if the person you were going to interact with was your sister, or the bizarre person who seemed to have invaded her body lately. You could never count on anything going according to plan or in any kind of normal way. Everything was centred about them, their safety, their interactions with the world, how you tried to help them, how frustrating they are, how they resented the help.”
Being around a person suffering from severe depression can obviously change the way people see or think of them, it’s just human nature. But what happens if you are not aware that the person has an illness, if you just see them down all the time, for no reason? Watching a sister in a constant state of sadness can only confuse a child, at the incredibly young age of 15. I asked what the worst parts were before the diagnosis. “It was very difficult to feel like the “good child” who always did everything right and at the time I perceived that she got everything she wanted without having to work for it. In hindsight that was far from the truth. Seeing the strain it placed on my parents, the constant fighting meant that my little brother grew up in a household where arguing and fighting were common. That’s not what it was like when I was a kid so it bothered me that he was exposed to that. My parents were constantly worried and trying to do the right thing for her but not being really sure what that was.. all very stressful and frustrating.”
A diagnosis can change everything. Now that you know the person suffering, is actually suffering from an illness that cannot be cured, you can look at them in a different way altogether. I asked my source if diagnosis made a big change in the relationship she has with her sister. “It saved my relationship with my sister. I came to understand that she was sick, she has a disease. Her selfishness, her complete lack of capability, her dysfunction were not her fault. Being angry at her for her behaviour is like being angry at a person with Diabetes. Understanding what the problem is and seeing her struggle and fight through treatment went a long way towards understanding how awful depression is, and having great appreciation for her efforts.”
So, after almost twenty years (and still ongoing) of watching her sister battle with depression, I asked if it has become easier for her sister to talk about the illness with her. “I am glad to say that when the shit hits the fan a 3am she was able call be to come get her. She has the capability to tell her family when she feels unsafe for which we are very grateful. It always makes us feel terrible that she feels that way but better that she tells us than she takes unsafe steps.”
Any sort of illness or disease can have a profound effect on the relationship between the person suffering, and the people with whom they have close relationships. Mental health is a topic that is not talked about much because it is quite a sensitive subject to deal with. But depression can be an illness that goes undiagnosed for years upon years. The tell tale signs in a person who is suffering are a loss of interest in normal activities, a constant state of sadness or self loathing, they may have problems sleeping, they may have a sudden loss in appetite, and they may complain about physical pains. If you think you have these symptoms, or have noticed these symptoms in somebody else, talk to someone about it. Don’t be afraid to speak about it, because as we have witnessed, a diagnosis can save a relationship.