Helpful tips for relatives

It is a fact that in a state of depression our brain metabolism can incur changes. In the process those neurotransmitters that are ultimately crucial to our thoughts, feelings, somatic functions and our actions and behaviour are thrown off balance. Your afflictions – be it sleep disturbances, lack of energy, feelings of guilt or failure – are therefore not purely “psychological” or as many believe “a display of weakness of will”. They are attributable to depression as a disease. According to current scientific knowledge depression as a disease comes about because of a lack of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Depression is therefore not an ordinary sadness, a personal weakness, a failure or a personal inability, but a disease that pertains to the entire body.

As a relative one is invariably inclined to underestimate the disease. Your well-intended remarks can come across as quite negative to the sick person:

  • Everybody can feel under the weather once in a while

  • Chin up! Everything will be okay

  • What you need is a holiday

  • You’re actually fine

  • Pull yourself together

  • All you need is a bit of a change

These remarks do nothing for the sick person. On the contrary the negative feelings going on inside his/her head simply become even more pronounced at the thought of not even being able to accomplish such seemingly simple things. It is therefore a good idea to desist from comments like this and focus on how you can offer the depressed individual meaningful help instead.  

Unfortunately experience has taught me how painful it is when close relatives question the validity of the disease actually being a disease and when they insinuate that what is going on is simply some kind of personal failure.

Whoever denies the consequences quite conveniently needs not take responsibility for the causes!


A word of advice to older parents

Half-hearted excuses whose objectives are more about protecting yourself and obtaining compassion for your situation in the past are hardly beneficial and will stand in the way of the healing process on both sides. By owning up to the mistakes you made in the past, you will obtain the compassion you are seeking anyway. In most cases offspring will be compassionate. If real failings still prevail they are likely to be forgiven. If these failings had consequences and your child became ill because of them, the best way he/she can become healthy today is through your acknowledgement. Again I would like to advise older parents to desist from further denials and from downplaying the child abuse. There are older parents who will persist in pleading total ignorance. Their vehement denial of the truth unnerves adult offspring exactly in the same way as it did when they were children and they were made to feel disorientated. This means further damage to the psyche of the now grown-up child. It is hardly possible to keep on living on even keel and to find a way out of the dilemma of self-recriminations, suppression, defensiveness and the ongoing existence of pathological symptoms. If the cooperation of parents who have meanwhile aged has to be dispensed with, this is a difficult route to go. What this can also lead to is the further cementing of diseases and resistance to therapy or treatment.