Health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. (World Health Organisation 1948)
Depression: “A mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep”. (Oxford Dictionaries, 2015)
Partner: “Either member of a married couple or of an established unmarried couple”. (Oxford Dictionaries, 2015)
Depression is a complex mental disorder caused by shifts in the brain chemistry. It causes changes of moods and behaviour. It is often triggered by an unexpected event such as bereavement, job loss or another traumatic experience.
Research by the World Health Organisation found that every year 1 out of 15 people suffer from depression in the United Kingdom. More than 350 million people worldwide are suffering from Depression and an estimated 80% of depression patients are suicidal.
The symptoms of depression are various and can range from simple mood changes to feeling low and worthless, sad and hopeless, losing the joy of life and feeling trapped in dark thoughts and moods. Even self-harming or suicidal thoughts are likely. It also can have physical effects such as: change of eating habits, unexplained pains and disrupted speech and sleeping problems. This can have an enormous impact of disruption on relationships and family life if a close family member suffers from depression.
Financial and Emotional impact on the partner
It’s important to remember that the sufferer has not chosen depression. Depression is a complex illness and can have a dynamic impact on a relationship both financially and emotionally.
To live with a partner with depression is often stressful, as the sufferer is not acting like their usual self, and in many cases the sufferer is unable to work. The partner will find himself or herself as the only earner, putting an extra strain on them.
There is financial support, which might be available to the family, but it can take a long time for the Department of Work and Pensions to make a decision. This will cause some extra financial and personal pressure on the partner.
The recovery will take a long time even with the right and appropriate treatment. By addressing the issue to the wider family, responsibilities can be shared. Creating such a support network for each other can lead to a closer and more appreciated relationship for the couple and the wider family. This can be an unexpected positive impact of depression.
As the depression not only affects the sufferer, but also the partner it is necessary to act as soon as the diagnosis is made. Waiting can increase the strain on the relationship.
It is important for the partner of the sufferer to protect their own mental and physical health and not to lose their own happiness. Understanding the illness and its implications will give the partner an overview of typical problems and enable them to seek help for himself or herself and also for the sufferer.
There are also various support groups from the NHS, Mind or Depression Alliance available who can help set boundaries to avoid burnout or resentments. These support groups offer support across England and can offer help for both the sufferer and their partner.
Support groups are usually weekly and mostly run by volunteers in a friendly atmosphere. NHS, Mind and Depression Alliance also have online forums available where sufferer and partner can get in contact with former patients to get advice.
Counselling or therapy for couples can also help to address feelings and improve mutual understanding of each other. Support from family and friends can also help, it is important to discuss the condition with friends and family to make them aware of current issues and specifically how they can assist.
Whilst there is evidence of a range of support available, mental health issues are still stigmatised by society, which amplifies the feelings of anxiety and depression in both the sufferer and partner.
Depression is an invisible disease that is often not recognised by Society at large. Depression is a genuine, severe medical condition which is not easy to cope with for both the sufferer and their partner.
It can be divisive, but also bring the wider family closer together. To accomplish the best support for the sufferer and the partner communication is essential. Couples and families who discuss and improve their understanding of depression can achieve a positive and better functioning relationship. This enables positive support for the sufferer and the partner making them more able to efficiently handle the illness in the long-term.
By Birgit Allport