Author: Phoebe Hutchison
© 2016 Phoebe Hutchison Qualified Counsellor and Author of Honeymooners Forever, Twelve Step Marriage Survival Guide and Are You Listening? Life is Talking to You
Depression is an altered state of brain chemistry, that impacts a person’s mood, body, and life, in a detrimental way. It is a result of a life imbalance. When we resolve the life imbalance, and give the person tools to have power over thought, grieve well, and become connected to their life again, the imbalance, and the depression, become a thing of the past. When a person is coping well again in most areas of their life, depression symptoms usually subside.
Allow me to shed light on the signs of a depressed person, give you a glimpse inside their world, and outline contributing factors for depression. This should equip you, and your loved one, with the strategies to improve your relationship, and lives, despite depression.
Living with a depressed family member is full of challenges; some people feel cheated by the changes in their loved one’s actions and attitudes, others feel heartbroken and many become emotionally disconnected, eventually fracturing the relationship. As a relationship and crisis counsellor, I’ve helped many couples and individuals whose lives were impacted by depression… and I’ve witnessed many clients recover from depression.
What are the signs of a depressed spouse or family member?
Has your loved one changed and become negative, often pessimistic, about almost everything? Has he or she become quieter, emotionally withdrawn, simultaneously becoming unavailable for many family activities? Have they cut down on socializing, seem disinterested in work, family, school, or life? Have they increased emotional eating, drinking of alcohol or drug taking? Has your partner or family member become moody and easily angered? One client said, ‘My husband seems to be a shell – as if he has no soul,’ and another client said, ‘He’s no fun anymore; he’s just not the same person he was five years ago, before the depression.’ One woman said about her son, ‘He’s always angry.’ One man said, ‘My wife is constantly sad, and hardly talks, yet she has so many great things in her life… It doesn’t make sense.’
These sentiments are common. While the contributing factors in depression vary from person to person, the way depression appears ‘from the outside’ is strikingly similar.
How does it feel to have depression?
The daily walk with depression is a crippling one; relationships with family members, friends, colleagues, and life in general, all become more difficult and painful. The depressed person usually feels oppressed, and caged in, either by self-imposed restrictions or perceived (or real) external limitations placed on them.
In most cases, unresolved grief and loss is at the core of depression. For men, it is often a loss of a relative or friend, job loss, or loss of a healthy status in the primary relationship. For women, it is often a loss of a child, miscarriage, feeling trapped in the primary relationship, or not following their passions. For children, it is often the loss of autonomy; feeling as though they are powerless, and have little choices in life, combined with negative thinking and emotional overwhelm. For everyone, depression can lead to a feeling of no hope, which is a major contributing factor in suicidal thinking.
The depressed person lives in the shadows of self-condemnation, anger and frustration. As they over-focus on their defeats and weaknesses, causing their self-esteem to plummet, they compare themselves with others unfavorably – adding more bricks to the wall of isolation around them. This anger at life eventually points inwards, and prior goals seem unattainable. They often become pressured by most obligations, leaving them feeling ‘stuck’, struggling to make decisions, and fearful of the future. Many people with depression also suffer anxiety as well.
What are some of the side effects of depression?
This lack of fulfillment, and a feeling that life is ‘bland’, often becomes the catalyst for an escape. In marriage, this may be a ‘mid-life crisis’ or an affair; creating a change, then a temporary spark. In children, teenagers, or adults, this need for escape from the negative mind could lead to addictions, such as: self harm, food, dangerous behaviour, alcohol, or drugs. However, these methods often add to a devastating backlash of increased alienation from loved ones, fueling self-disgust and confusion, making matters worse.
All these habitual negative, repetitive thoughts create an avalanche of sad emotions, impacting the body. As depression sets in, restless sleep, reduced sex drive, appetite changes, aches and pains, and fatigue, are common place. Feeling numb and disassociated from life, it is common to hear a depressed person say, ‘I don’t know who I am anymore’ and ‘I don’t know what I want.’ The motivation is greatly impacted, leading to a greater sense of hopelessness, and self-dislike.
How can you help your depressed spouse or family member?
Some partners tell their loved one to ‘harden up’ or ‘get over it’, which only exasperates the situation. Ideally, if your loved one has depression, you can assist them by encouraging them to see a doctor for possible medication and a psychologist or counsellor for therapy. Keep talking to your spouse, keep listening, avoid nasty ‘put down’ comments. As depression is not just ‘in the mind’; it is physical as well, be gentle and assist where you can in practical ways around the household. Being empathetic is important, but knowing helpful strategies is essential.
I have a tool in my 2nd book, Are You Listening? Life is Talking to You, that I encourage you to use, called The Crisis/ Life Balance Wheel.
Ask yourself the following questions about your loved one (related to 8 vital areas):
- Thought Patterns (Are their thoughts mostly positive or negative?)
- Self Esteem (Do they have strong self-esteem?)
- Past Grief and Loss (Are they frequently emotional over a past loss or physical or emotional trauma?)
- Emotions (Are their emotions mostly positive or negative?)
- Brain Chemistry (Are they eating well and exercising at least 3 times weekly to improve brain neurotransmitters?)
- Support Networks (Do they have friends they regularly socialize with?)
- Passions (Are they regularly enjoying passions/hobbies?)
- Lifestyle/Career (Do they enjoy their daily activities and are they suffering any financial stress?).
When using this Crisis/Life Balance Wheel for assessment, I ask the client to give me a Coping/Not Coping, response, which I translate to tick or a cross. (In my book, I offer strategies for these eight vital areas). When working with depression, It’s all about firstly identifying, then strengthening, areas where a person is not coping well.
What are the signs of suicidal thinking?
Tragically, a person who is not coping in five or more of these 8 x areas is likely to be experiencing suicidal thinking, so be brave and ask them if they have had any suicidal thoughts. If they have had suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately and give them Lifeline phone no. 13 11 14 in Australia). Other signs that your loved one may be suicidal may include: feeling hopeless, useless, or saying their goodbyes, giving away possessions, putting legal affairs in order, or talking about dying frequently.
How medicine and therapy can help?
What causes depression? Science suggests that depression is related to an imbalance in the levels of the following neurotransmitters in the brain: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, and that depression can be hereditary.
So, does depression cause the imbalance in these neurotransmitters, which has a negative impact on the person’s life OR does the life imbalance cause the imbalance in the neurotransmitters, which causes the depression? It is very much like the chicken and the egg – which came first?
Your doctor can assist with antidepressant medication, which often works well in improving the balance of neurotransmitters. However, we need to work on two levels:
- Keep these brain chemistry levels correct.
- Equip the depressed loved one with strategies for better coping with their relationships and life.
Many of my hundreds of counselling sessions have involved a client with depression. When you know what to look for, what to avoid, and how to help yourself, you can make a huge change in your own, and your loved one’s life. If your loved one has depression, they are drowning…so give them a life line by being supporting, loving, and empathetic, and guide them to get help.
Keep talking, keep listening and keep the connection strong between you and your loved one. Now that you know more about what your loved one is going through, and that depression is an illness, not a choice, this should help you remain empathetic. With therapeutic strategies, lots of love, hope, and support, you should be able to help your loved one improve their life balance, so they can become connected to you, and life, again… which is the direct opposite of depression.Learn More
Author: Phoebe Hutchison
Discover why the process of grief is designed to help you cope, and then heal, from loss.
If you have lost a friend, family member, beloved pet, or even a job, you are most likely going through the GRIEF PROCESS. This process is like a dark cloud that hangs over your life for some time after your loss, protecting you, one stage, one minute, one day at a time, helping you heal…
Your mind, body, and spirit are working hard to Protect You & Stop You from feeling ALL your loss at once by putting you in a state of Grief.
- You are not yourself
Your loss will leave you feeling empty, confused, and overwhelmed. You are simply not yourself at the moment. The process of grieving may leave you feeling disconnected from family, friends, your usual work activities and hobbies. Life does not feel the same…you feel numb. This is normal. Grief wants you to step back from your usual life for a while…as you have a lot of work to do: Grief work.
- You have a one track mind
You will have flashbacks, conversations repeating in your mind, words you ‘should have’ said, things you ‘could have’ done. Then you will be tortured by the ‘What if’s’. ‘What if I was there for you that day, that night?’ What if we did this…did that? You may see images, over and over. You keep shutting them out, but your mind keeps replaying them. This is your mind trying to come to terms with the events you have just been through. Your mind is busy reconciling and processing huge emotions, uncommon events, and possible trauma. This is usual soon after loss.
- Your body is weak
Your body is hurting, as grief is a physical process. It is common to feel aches and pains, as the body is being impacted by the abrupt changes. All these roar emotions take up a lot of energy, as does speaking to people about all the intricate details of the events. The loss is exhausting. You may also be in shock, traumatized, in fight, flight or freeze stage. To help your body, keep in mind that simple foods will make digestion less complicated, so your body can work at maintaining homeostasis. When I am with a client who has just lost a husband, I assure them that toast for tea is fine, for the moment, while they recover. Keep hydrated; avoid alcohol as it is a depressant. Allow others to help you with your responsibilities. If you feel like hiding from the world, conserving energy for a few hours here and there, then do it. Similarly, if you feel like a walk, do it! The neurotransmitter boost from gentle exercise, as well as much needed endorphins, will help your mood and body, and assist sleep. Listen to your body, and never push yourself while grieving, as it is very easy to become over-fatigued.
- You are angry
In this fragile state, you will also experience Anger. Grief can make you angry at the world, or you may feel cheated. You could become furious about the flowers at the funeral, your sister, the weather! The anger is helpful; as it gives you a constructive way to channel your heightened emotions…it gives you a purpose, when all your work/hobbies have been stripped away. In my couples counselling, I have seen this anger hurt marriages…so try not to take this anger out on your spouse. This anger is a normal part of grieving, so when you feel like kicking something, make sure it’s a football, not the family dog.
- You can’t concentrate
Your brain is ‘foggy’, and this is frustrating. Be extra careful, as you are not as alert as usual. Your pre-occupation with loss has changed your ability to focus. Some people find themselves becoming frustrated at themselves because they can’t concentrate, when they are shopping, or back at work. Grief won’t let you concentrate…not for long. Why? If you could think clearly, then maybe you could sit and comprehend the enormity of your loss. Grief wants to protect you from this.
- You can’t sleep
So why are you having trouble sleeping? Well, your whole body and mind is in chaos! You swing from too much adrenalin to complete exhaustion, and naturally your brain is impacted. You try to suppress distressful thoughts during the day, so your mind replays them for you while you sleep. Or maybe you over-focus on your loss all day. You may even have a little PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), if you have witnessed the death, seen your loved one just prior to, or after death. Try to take some time out, each day, to switch off, read a magazine or book, watch television, thereby giving the conscious mind a much needed rest.
- You are depressed
Depression sets in. This is a normal part of grief. Depression causes insomnia, fatigue, negative thinking and anger at self. (So now you have anger at self AND anger at the world). Your neurotransmitters are impacted, your serotonin and dopamine are most likely out of balance; you are definitely not yourself. You may feel like you have lost some faith in life, and fearful of the future. (As a crisis counsellor, I have noticed that most clients with depression had unresolved grief at the source and clients with anxiety had unresolved trauma at the source.) If the depression, anxiety or sleep issues persist, see a doctor, psychologist or counsellor.
- Your ‘to do’ list in this grief process
Talk about your loved one, and the experience of the loss, with others and allow yourself to be immersed in this sadness. Make photo boards, talk to the loved one, and celebrate their life in any way you feel. Write letters, record messages on your phone to your loved one, keep communicating to your friends, family AND loved one. Put photos around your home. Have they really left you? Or are they simply in another form? Your loved one is in your heart, they are part of you…and their spirit – their love – is with you when you most need them.
- Your goal in the Grief Process
The good news is, if you allow the grief process to happen; if you don’t suppress it, or try to ‘push on and get back to work too early’, your healing will happen. Eventually, this depression should reduce, and your mind and body WILL feel normal again. The ultimate goal of Grief is to come to a place of acceptance. In this final stage, you will be in a new phase, where the loss is integrated into your heart. You will perhaps stops seeing your loved one everywhere, and be able to focus again on your life, with the knowledge that your loved one is still with you, in spirit, and in your heart. These grief clouds will pass, and eventually you will see the sun, the beauty of life again.
This time, is possibly your lowest…but you will be happy again, you will feel yourself again. You will enjoy the rain, the clouds, and the sun, again.Learn More