When a family member is struggling with depression

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Anonymous

An anonymous student talks about their difficulties battling their own depression whilst also having to help and support their family member who is also battling depression.

A few years ago I struggled through a difficult period of depression which left me both emotionally and physically scarred. I isolated myself from my family and friends and convinced myself that I was worthless (a mindset that I’ve not completely yet lost, 6 years later). The recovery was even more difficult for many reasons. My parents reacted badly – they were angry and confused and tried to shelter my brothers which completely wrecked my relationships with them. I was sent to a single therapy session and left to recover on my own.

Dealing with my own depression, I thought at the time, was the hardest thing I hopefully would ever go through. However, in the following years, my mum became severely depressed as a result of physical illness. For me, at least, dealing with the depression of a family member has been much harder to navigate than my own mental health. Due to her physical illness, she ceased being able to care for me and my brothers and so the parent-child dynamic reversed. She would cry constantly, all day and night (which, through the thin walls of our house, would be the sound I fell asleep to every night).

For me, at least, dealing with the depression of a family member has been much harder to navigate than my own mental health.

She started to take her pain out on us – she would blame each of us for her illness, especially my dad. Her moods would shift within seconds – we could be sitting and having a cup of tea together and chatting, then she would go to the bathroom and when she would return, she would suddenly turn verbally abusive, all within a matter of seconds. Being at home became a nightmare. Every day was exhausting. We would beg my dad to file for a divorce but he refused. He said she was suffering more than any of us and we had to be there for her. I was angry, especially as they had dealt so badly with my depression. I started to resent not only her but my friends who had close relationships with their parents. My brothers and I all knew the situation was dire but we never discussed it with each other. For 4-5 years I felt alone and trapped in a cycle of frustration and anger which led to tremendous guilt.

Although going to university helped, the distance allowed me to ignore my problems. The cracks were always exposed when I went home over the holidays and I would often have anxiety attacks before going home.

A few months into my first year, I started dating someone. I never opened up about my mum, but he later told me that he had guessed that something was wrong due to the way I would close up whenever we spoke about family. One evening in the summer, he happened to be at my house when my mum had an outburst. As a result I decided to explain the situation to him. I never realised how helpful speaking would be and how much I needed a hug, a shoulder to cry on and to be told that my anger doesn’t make me a bad person.

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Since then I have slowly been opening up about my mental health and my family situation. Digging up the past has been hard and it’s a slow process. It is clear that I never fully recovered all those years ago as I never sought proper help and, combined with my mum’s health, I had turned into a shell of my former self. I often relapsed and isolated myself but was in denial and never connected the dots as to why I was acting like that. I had never spoken to anyone about any of this.

Watching someone you love suffer and being unable to do anything can be one of the worst things you can go through. It is so, so important to find someone you trust to speak to – even if speaking won’t solve the problem, it can make the process a lot easier. Although it wasn’t until I was in a relationship that I felt I could trust someone with this, a boyfriend is not necessary for recovery. Relying on a significant other can be detrimental to your progress if you’re in a stage of recovery. But talking to someone that you trust – be it a therapist, a friend, a tutor or a partner, is so important.

Featured Image: Marina Afzal-Khan


When someone in your family is going through a hard time, it can all feel like too much. How can you support them whilst looking after yourself? Comment below or get in touch!

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