Understanding How Depression Can Affect Your Loved Ones

An estimated 6.7 percent of the American population over the age of 18 has struggled with with major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression, in the past year. While 6.7 percent might not seem like an overwhelming number, that’s roughly one in 15 adults. That makes it quite likely that you know a friend, relative, or acquaintance who has at one point spoken about their struggle with depression, or depressive symptoms.

Yet while depression has been heavily studied as an illness affecting an individual, it’s important not to forget the role that family plays in both treating this condition and displaying its destructiveness across platonic and familial bonds. A case of depression is not only self-destructive, but heavily affects a patient’s loved ones and friends, as well as those who choose to support their treatment.

Not only should one understand how depression affects those they love; they should understand how a holistic approach centered around cooperative treatment can greatly improve the recovery process. Recovering from mental illness is no easy feat and letting loved ones in can make a significant difference.


Depression Can Spread

Depression is not contagious like a physical illness might be, but some individuals are particularly susceptible to the stress experienced when seeing a loved one go through a difficult time. Based on varied individual factors, seeing a loved one be depressed can illicit negative emotions and stress. This can also be seen in caregiver stress syndrome, wherein a person tasked with caring for another begins to develop symptoms of depression as a result of prioritizing their loved one’s care over their own wellbeing.

In some cases, being heavily involved in the depression treatment process without taking a step back to evaluate one’s own mental health can contribute to the development of detrimental stress, ‘burnout’, and eventual depression.

This is potentially more apparent in families, where the risk factor for depression is at least partially informed by genes. It becomes important then for the entire family to acknowledge the risks and symptoms of depressive disorders and endeavor to minimize their effects. The priority in treating depression is still with the patient in question, but adequate education and prophylaxis is needed throughout the family and between friends to prevent a bad situation from becoming worse.

In other words, one person’s depression can undermine their loved one’s wellbeing, which in turn feeds back into the first person’s condition, creating a vicious cycle of negativity throughout a tightly knit household. Working on everyone’s mental health is important, particularly for the treatment of the diagnosed member of the family.


Depression and Isolation

Depression is a disorder that not only thrives from isolation but promotes it. This is counterproductive to treatment, because a depressed individual requires not only professional help, but the support of their loved ones to counteract common symptoms such as self-deprecation, lowered sense of self-worth and self-esteem, as well as suicidal ideation in severe cases.

Even with access to information widely available and distributed throughout the Internet, barriers exist that prevent individuals with depression from either seeking help or being open about their condition with their family. Throughout the world, fears and worries surrounding stigma, misunderstanding, weakness, and other negative perceptions often fuel this unwillingness. Other issues include financial instability and general lack of knowledge regarding their own potential diagnosis.

In any case, an unwillingness to either seek professional help or work with loved one’s to implement plans for treatment can and often does fuel the continued deterioration of a person’s mental wellbeing. Despite the intended effect, this isolation can also negatively impact friends and family. Close loved ones notice when those they care about purposefully withdraw and hide their condition, sowing mistrust and worry. Despite the effect depression can have on your loved ones, it is always better to work through depression with them rather than struggling alone.


Family-Centric Treatment

Family therapy has been a big part in the treatment of depression, particularly for cases of youth depression, where patients are more likely to live with their family. However, even among adults, the importance of coordinating with family members rather than just spouses/partners is becoming apparent, particularly as research indicates that family relationships continue to play a significant role in the development and nature of a person’s depressive symptoms well into adulthood.

The importance of family in the treatment of depression can best be explained by the amount of time a depressed person spends in therapy, versus the amount of time they spend at home or with friends. It is ultimately the people we spend the most time with who affect us the most, and it is our home environment that greatly informs not just how we behave, but who we truly are. Most clinics and professionals are aware of this and operate carefully on a case-by-case basis to assess the familial risk factors of their patient’s depression and incorporate friends and family as best they can, without betraying a patient’s trust or consent.


The Importance of Working Together

Depression cannot be effectively treated without the necessary input from a patient’s loved ones, including friends and family, through changes made to their lifestyle, addressing issues in communication, and through properly addressing the family dynamic, as well as assessing a family’s knowledge and understanding of their loved one’s condition.

It’s important not to forget that certain barriers exist that may complicate treatment. A mental health professional is not allowed to speak about the details of their patient’s condition without explicit consent from the patient, who may not be comfortable with their family knowing more about their condition.

Furthermore, some cases of depression develop as a result of certain family issues, which may be pervasive enough that they cannot be adequately addressed through family therapy. This is where including the family in treatment becomes most complicated. Because family can contribute greatly to the development of addiction, as well as to its treatment, it’s crucial for both patients and therapists alike to take into account the importance of familial and platonic bonds.

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