Living with depression and anxiety in your family

This year I started by looking into an often untold story. The story of those that live with others close to them that have depression related mental health issues. Let’s look at the challenges, the pressure and some coping strategies.

What is depression and anxiety?

Depression is a disease. While it’s not contagious, don’t underestimate that it can be transferred between humans like most group norms.

Depression is a state, a cycle, perhaps a chemical degradation of the mind. It’s the dark thought that grows and suddenly suddenly gains dominance. It’s not just feeling a bit down for a few days, that’s just a dip in your normal state. This isn’t fixable with biscuits or a duvet day, (Atleast not any biscuits I’ve encountered.)

Depression is when you don’t bounce back. Generally you will need some help and some time to recover. Thinking too much about the past can be linked or lead to depression. You struggle to plan or think of a positive future. There is often a mind/body connect. You may have physical symptoms that are connected to the challenges you experience in the mind.

Anxiety is not the same. It doesn’t come with depression, but people who have it may have depression as well. Unlike depression, anxiety looks to the future, and the future is looks quite scary. Your stress response is activated, linked to fear, linked to what might happen next.

If this happens repeatedly you start to get good at getting stressed about possible futures. There can be a conscious, perceivable trigger or it can come from an unconscious worry cycle triggered for no clear reason.

It’s a simplification to say Depression is about the past and Anxiety is about the future, but it’s a starting point to help comprehend the issues. Perhaps it paints a picture of how trying to live in ‘the now’ is a useful way to be versus these unfortunate and difficult conditions.

Depression nearby?

If someone in your immediate family or close circle of friends has depression, it may take you a while to notice. It might go unnoticed for a while – gradually perhaps you notice as things increase. Maybe you have some training and become more aware of what’s going on under your nose.

If it’s a loved one, the depression may start to affect you. It can cause conflict, withdrawl, lack of interest in activities, or negative repeat patterns like apathy, anger, argumentativeness, procrastination or saying things like ‘well, that’s just how it is’ repeatedly. It’s quite gloomy.

Anxiety can be the reverse, it can cause confrontation, high levels of emotion and stress, lack of sleep, obsessiveness, a fair amount of frustration and fear.

Both these ‘states’ are extremely wearing and as a friend of mine said, a bit like radiation. You can’t see what they are doing to you, but repeated and long-term exposure have an effect on you. Generally your hair doesn’t fall out, but cumulative damage occurs. Emotional wear and tare, the need to be away from ‘the source’ and a build up of stress occurs.

If this person were a friend, you’d probably avoid them for a while as their presence would be wearing. But, imagine if you work with them, or they live in your house, or share your bedroom. It’s hard to remove yourself from the situation without harming your relationship.

What to do if you live with a person who has Anxiety or Depression?

From my experience, there are a few things you can do to help self-guard yourself in this situation. Here are some suggestions you might like to consider:

  1. Get Help – unless you are a trained mental health professional and even if you are, you need the support of a network AND some experienced advisers. Look for direct support outside of your home. Friends, Services you can call, your GP, Advice services at work. Use them, call them, see them. If you don’t activate this protective network your mental health will suffer. Nobody is radiation proof longterm. Nobody.
  2. Read – there are plenty of resources out there. Research the issues so you understand what you are dealing with (but see point 1, don’t deal with it alone, you need support). Knowledge is your friend so you can get the right kind of help for both of you.
  3. Get time out – make sure you get time out of the situation, at work, at the gym or the running track or a fitness class. People with depression can be very introspective and self obsessed. Don’t wallow with them. Get your radiation levels back down.
  4. Do your thing – If you have a hobby or things you do to unwind, don’t trade it for caring for them. You can care better if you have this time out. Don’t lose sight of what you enjoy doing. Pursue it selflessly. You almost certainly earned it. Don’t lose sight of your life or career goals either
  5. Get them to help – generally you can’t fix things yourself, so get people in who can bring the right support into their life. You may need to be cunning or persuasive or down right stubborn to do this, but get the GP or other services onsite or on the phone if needed. Depressed people will often not be able to see or action ‘getting help’ so you may need to do this. Don’t expect thanks, but thank yourself for being strong.
  6. Tell others who will help – Get visitors in who have a positive effect or can help you get them to support services. You may need support, so without betraying their trust overtly make sure you share the support role around.
  7. How are you doing? – check your own mental and physical health regularly. Find something or someone to calibrate/measure how you are doing.

Just to close, remember these mental issues are like radiation. Nobody is immune and you need to use your network and rally outside support to be resilient for your long term health needs. If you don’t support yourself, it’s tough to support others. Invest.