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Depression – It’s A Family Affair

Depression - Family Affair

Every now and then, I’m reminded just how connective mental health problems can be.  By that, I mean how much one person’s depression can touch everyone else in their family.  Depression is truly a family affair.

Major Depression

Major depression can occur when you least expect it and with someone who hasn’t had a history of depression before.  It could be triggered by a weather disaster, a medical diagnosis, moving far away, a sudden death in the family – really anything that requires a lot of adjustment.  If the person feels like they have little control over their circumstances, they may be even more vulnerable to a bout with depression.

Old social habits may go by the wayside for months at a time.  Just getting your spouse or child to go out with the family can feel like a chore.  Explaining your loved one’s isolation or mood can be uncomfortable, depending on how easily your family members talk about emotional upset.  Life can seem hopeless for a while, and it can be tempting to make wholesale changes to avoid more pain.  All of this can leave the non-depressed family members at a real loss.

Just getting the depressed person some type of help can make a big difference.  A trip to the doctor, a visit with a pastor, or just getting back into some kind of routine can be helpful.  It can also just take time for the adjustment or situation to run its course.

Bipolar Depression

When bipolar cycles go up and down, the rest of the family really feels the imbalance.  They do whatever they can to cope with the mood swings, irritability, periods of depression, and manic behaviors.

If a person with bipolar is sticking with a good treatment plan, the effects will be minimal and the family can even be part of the process.  It’s the untreated bipolar condition that causes the most damage.

Marriages have difficulty staying together with so much turbulence.  Children grow up learning ways to keep their distance when necessary.  Anyone in the family, including the bipolar-afflicted person, could turn to drugs or alcohol to manage their pain.

Do What It Takes To Get Your Loved One Help

If life-changing symptoms go on for more than a few weeks with no sign of improvement, do whatever it takes to get them to a trained professional.  Depression can make everything seem completely hopeless, but it is very treatable.  Let your family member know how much you care and how important it is to get their life back on track.

Most importantly, any sign of suicidality should be taken seriously.  If necessary, call 911 or your local psychiatric hospital for assistance.  Mental illness doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it touches everyone in a family.  Help the depressed person get better and the whole family gets better with them.

Readers – what experiences have you had with a person in your family needing treatment for depression?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Brave Heart

Depression – It’s A Family Affair

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2011). Depression – It’s A Family Affair. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 May 2011
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