Depression: Coping When Our Loved Ones Are Also Unwell

Living with depression is incredibly difficult; not just for those of us who are unwell, but for our loved ones too. There’s not one area of our lives that depression doesn’t touch.

When a loved one has depression, we feel the affects of the illness on our relationships, and we often feel helpless, confused and uncertain. When we have depression, and have a loved one who also has depression, it can feel impossible to navigate. Depression can affect different people in different ways. It’s tough on our psyche to both simultaneously need support, and to want to do all that we can to give it – especially as there’s a shared understanding of the illness.

Depression: Coping When Our Loved Ones Are Also Unwell

Discuss involvement

Try not to let depression be the elephant in the room even when it can be difficult to find the words to explain how we feel. Keeping those channels of communication open prevents second guessing each other which can lead to incorrect assumptions being made, resentment, and feed into those nasty negative thoughts.

Thinking through, and then talking through, these questions might help to give a better understanding of what your individual needs are and how you might handle those together.

How involved do our loved ones want us to be? How involved do we want our loved ones to be? Do we want to give permission for our care teams to speak to our loved one? Do we want them to come to appointments with us? Do we want them to help us remember to take our medication? Do we want them to encourage us out of our PJs if we’ve been in the same pair for over a week?

There are so many ways that we could get involved in our loved ones care, and vice versa, but we might not want that. It’s important to have an honest, open discussion about how involved we want each other to be.

Plan in advance

There are likely to be times when our, or our loved one’s depression becomes particularly bad. These deep lows will look different on different people. We might hit crisis point. We might reach a point where we’re struggling to do basic tasks. We could be signed off work. At times like this, it can be hard to communicate what we want or need. It can be stressful because we don’t know what to do for the best, especially if both us and our loved ones are struggling at the same time.
Creating a plan in advance for times like this, can help. It can help us to advocate for our loved one, and help them to advocate for us, if necessary. It could include things like which professionals to ring, and when. We might make a plan for who to ring and what to say if we need to ring in sick to work. We could make a ‘bad day’ plan, which could include things like which blanket we’d prefer to be wrapped in, what meal we’re most likely to be able to eat, and which radio station we’d like on in the background. We will all have different priorities. It doesn’t need to be written down if we don’t want to – we could just have a discussion. But having some sort of idea of what to do if either of us hit a very low point, can be really helpful.

Create space

As much as it can be helpful to be around other people, we all need space at times and deserve to have space without feeling guilty about it. We all need quiet time to recharge, especially if we’re going through a particularly difficult patch. It can help to have somewhere where we’re both able to go, individually, if we need some time out.

Respect each other’s privacy

Our loved one might be our whole world. We might be super close. But everyone has a right to privacy when they feel as though they want or need it. We need to respect that. If our loved one keeps a diary, we shouldn’t read it (even if we’re really worried about them). If they don’t want us to drive them to appointments, we need to respect that. It’s important to have a conversation about where our boundaries lie. Privacy is important.

Use the help available

Living with depression can be hard. It can be lonely. It can take us to a point where we feel unable to cope. Having a loved on with depression can make this worse, especially if we’re both struggling at the same time. There is help available. Our GP can be a good place to start. If we have a loved one who is unwell, then we might be classed as a carer, so we could get support from our local carers centre. They should be able to point us in the direction of other help we might be entitled to.

Illness isn’t an excuse

Depression can explain why we might act or seem different, but it’s doesn’t excuse us from treating others badly. We’ll all slip up; say things we don’t mean, frustration can turn to anger, and confusion over how we feel can lead to us feeling acute fear. Depression can cause us to behave in ways that we’re ashamed of, we often feel unrecognisable from who we were before. We might snap and get irritated quickly. Push people away. Get angry. There are times when this can cause strain on a relationship. We’re only ever responsible for our actions, not those of others. Never be too proud to apologise – we don’t mean apologising from a place of low self-esteem, those times we apologise for ev-ery-thing – we mean to apologise when we’ve caused pain to others and we’re sorry. 

There’s a misconception in society that those with mental ill health are to be feared, that they’re a threat. We know that people who are mentally unwell are more likely to harm themselves then anyone around them but if your living environment becomes a place where you no longer feel safe, please reach out for help.


Find things to do together

Depression is all-consuming and as such, it can envelop our days and our relationships. We’re so much more than depression which is why it’s worth trying to find things to do together, they don’t have to be energetic nor expensive, just a way to connect again.

Everyone’s experience is different

When we have experience of depression, and are helping someone else who’s also experiencing depression, we often draw on our own experiences when helping them. This is absolutely fine. However, it’s worth remembering that everyone’s experience is different. We can’t assume that we know exactly how the other person is feeling, or what they’re thinking. It’s also important not to dismiss anyone else’s thoughts or feelings, even if they seem trivial compared to our own experience.

Take responsibility for your own health

We can’t pour from an empty cup. We have to look after ourselves first and foremost. We can’t look after others if we’re not looking after ourselves. We are responsible for our own health before we’re responsible for anyone else’s (this goes for our loved ones, too!). Be kind to yourself.

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