When a parent (or anyone else in your family) is suffering from depression, it's a hard blow to register. Depression is overwhelmingly more common than one would think, with one in four people suffering from it. Between eight and twelve percent of people in the UK are suffering from depression at any one given time: that's a hell of a lot of people, yet why is it shunned from conversation?
It's hard dealing with it, we're all in school/college/university and coping with it is harder than anyone would imagine. There's cooking, cleaning, constant emotional care, mood swings, tantrums, bouts of crying. . . this list can go on, but I don't want to get into the darker side of this mental health problem. I live with a parent who's suffered on and off with mental illness, and I hope that the following tips can be useful.
Getting Used To The Idea
It's a tremendous and terrible thing to digest fully. You'll try to blame yourself for it, but trust me when I say that there are numerous factors which contribute to this illness. You'll feel angry, hurt, and disappointed. Remember that this is something that must be treated, and in a culture where mental health is still taboo, it's admirable that someone had the guts to visit the doctor and talk about their problems. It's natural to feel all of these things, it's a process that you'll go through, I know I went through it.
This is as simple as typing "how to cope with depression" into Google. There's a wealth of material and huge amount of resources on the internet that can be used to fully understand depression and the effects that it has on people. Read up, know, learn, understand; it will come in handy. Books from the library are also available.
If a person is suffering from depression, they won't feel as they usually do. Things may start to go skewiff, but this is where you can come in and help out. Do the dishes, do some ironing, it won't take that long and it'll definitely make a huge contribution to how things go.
Take them out places; maybe for a walk to a local natural beauty sight such as a park or along the seaside. Exercise releases endorphins and helps people to deal with stress. It also triggers serotonin that is a feel-good chemical. These are also released by things as simple as laughter; slap on a comedy DVD or tune in to a funny programme on the television. Depression itself is caused by an imbalance of hormones and these things will definitely help to restore that.
Perhaps cook tea if they're not feeling up to it and generally just make a huge fuss of them. Use a lot of fruit and vegetables and have fruit juices to hand to help them get their five a day: the health benefits are countless. Organise outings if you can, a day at the beach does a world of good, or maybe just invite some of your parents' friends over. Help with cleaning around the house.
All of these things are just small examples of how you can handle the situation and turn it around to help a speedy recovery. Doing these will not only bring the feeling of being loved and appreciated by your family member, but it's also a good deed that will make you feel good too. Everyone wins.
This is where it gets tricky. It's easy to sacrifice a bit of time here and there to run a Hoover around or quickly whip something up in the kitchen, but helping someone cope emotionally is a huge, huge burden.
Talk. Talk. Talk some more. It's a cliché, but it works. Depending on the person, they may or may not be willing to talk about it, but encourage them to do so. It'll help both of you out and help you to understand why they're feeling like they are, you can both take necessary steps to ensure that how they feel changes e.g. a lifestyle change to enable less stress.
Organising an hour or so a day for the person to have some me-time will help them out, to have some time to themselves to do whatever they wish. It's necessary for everyone, we all need around an hour or two a day for us to manage the day we've had; time to just chill and do whatever. They're not pushing you away; they just want to clear their head. Don't feel rejected if they do this, it's a good thing for them to have some free time to do things on their own. The more free time they have, the more time they can concentrate on getting better.
If at any point they talk to you about suicidal thoughts or hearing voices in their head, seek help immediately. This could be the start of a mental breakdown or worse if it goes unchecked, so it is really important to get help. If the person has even joked about suicide, take it seriously. Don't doubt them. Try to clear the house of medication, even things like paracetamol can give someone a life-threatening overdose. Get rid of alcohol, and call NHS Direct (0845 4647). If the person is hysterical, call or text a family member to watch over them while you get necessary help or vice versa. This is a worse case scenario and unlikely to happen, but it can. Be prepared.
Be positive, always be positive. Avoid playing depressing bands loudly and watching films or programmes with a negative outlook on life. A bit simplistic, but Creep by Radiohead blaring loudly and Six Feet Underon the television is just going to make them feel worse, terribly worse!
It's draining physically, mentally and emotionally to cope with someone who has depression. It's hard being constantly positive when the person you live with is being negative. People can change significantly when suffering from an illness, if they do things out of character, remember that it's not them talking, it's the illness. Take your anger out on the illness, not the person.
Take time out. Go out, see bands, have a good time, listen to music that lifts you. Visit the cinema from time to time.
You are not alone and your emotions will change. Don't become depressed yourself, or hit out, or hurt yourself (or anyone else) or do anything stupid. This is not your fault. Tell your closest friends what's going on, friends can be a fantastic support network.
Keep hope, 80% of patients overcome this, but people who live with depressed people are more likely to become depressed themselves, this is why it's so important to take steps to take care of yourself; don't burn out.
If you've been affected by some of the issues raised in this article, please contact NHS Direct.