Families and Depression

Depression Impacts Families

Mother and Father with two children walking.Depression is an illness that has a profound impact on family members who live with the person as well as love the person. Depression is an illness that takes many shapes and forms. Some depressed people show subtle signs and symptoms for months before they are officially diagnosed and treated. This early phase can be difficult for everyone in the family. Some people who are depressed withdraw from people and isolate themselves. Some people start to drink heavily or use drugs. Some become irritable and moody and have angry, eruptive outbursts. These behavioral changes can be mystifying for family members who don't know the reason for the change. Also, it is extremely upsetting to be around someone who is withdrawn, irritable, or angry a great deal.

Depression is an illness which can often afflict numerous people in a family system. It may be that a number of people have been diagnosed with depression in the same family or it may be, given how often people never get help, that people are depressed but are not receiving necessary treatment. Depressive episodes can be triggered by stressful events (for example, unemployment, financial worries, illness, marital problems). These psychosocial events can play a powerful role in the onset of a depressive illness. So, not only does the family have to deal with the very real problems in life, but they also have to deal with a depressed person. When family members are perplexed and confused about why their relative is behaving differently, they may become angry with each other, and family problems may get worse. It has been noted in numerous research studies that marital problems can not only trigger depressive episodes but that ongoing marital friction can impede recovery from depression.

Involve families in the treatment process, and help identify other family members who may need counseling or who also may be at risk for developing depression.  Family members are often invited to attend evaluation appointments so that they can share with the professional staff their valuable perspective about the patient and to get to know the clinicians that provide care.. We also offer family or couples therapy when this approach is needed.

The University of Louisville Depression Resource Center has numerous books, pamphlets, videos, and other educational materials that can help families better understand mood disorders and work together with doctors and therapists to reach recovery. Also, the “Building Hope Public Lecture Series” includes presentations that give valuable insights on how to combat mood disorders and related problems. We are striving to offer the best help possible to patients and families who are battling depression.

Reading List:

  • Styron,William. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. Random House, 1990.(a narrative account)
  • Carter, Rosalynn. Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends and Caregivers. Random House. 1998

Adapted with permission from the University of Michigan Depression Center Web site.