How to Help a Loved One Who's Depressed

We hear tragic stories every day.

Remember the national tragedy a few years ago? The story of a Texas woman who drowned her five children in her bathtub? The youngsters fell victim to their mother's mental illness -- depression. While the tragic news revealed a severe case of the disorder, an estimated 17 million people in the United States suffer from depression each year. And they're not the only ones affected.

"Too often, those of us who care about a depressed person are so focused on their needs that we don't realize that we might need help," say Laura Epstein Rosen and Xavier Francisco Amador, authors of When Someone You Love Is Depressed: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself (Simon & Shuster, 1997).

In fact, partners of the depressed commonly find themselves developing their own symptoms of depression, anxiety or phobias. Susan Anderson, author of The Journey From Abandonment to Healing (Berkley, 2000) says that such individuals "feel a real sense of loss, because although their loved one is still physically present, their partners are no longer emotionally available, which creates feelings of rejection, disappointment, hurt and abandonment."

These concerns are reflected by one bewildered ThirdAger who writes, "I am involved with a woman who has severe depression. What can I do to be supportive? I find I have to watch every word I say for fear that she might take me wrong...[which] might set her off on an episode of anxiety or depression."

According to Rosen and Amador, "There is startling evidence that marriages in which one person is depressed are nine times more likely to end in divorce." Other relationships pose risks as well. "Children with a depressed parent are at an increased risk for a range of difficulties, and...if you are caring for an elderly depressed parent, your physical and mental health are likely to suffer." The bottom line: Family members of depressed individuals need guidance to help themselves while helping the ones they love. Rosen and Amador lay out these important steps for supporting your loved one, battling the disorder, salvaging your relationship and protecting yourself: 1. Learn all that you can. 2. Have realistic expectations. 3. Give unqualified support. 4. Keep your routine. 5. Express your feelings. 6. Don't take it personally. 7. Ask for help. 8. Work as a team. For more help from Rosen and Amador, read an excerpt from their book.
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