What’s it like to live with a parent with depression?

How one family’s approach helped them cope

FamilyMental health and wellbeing
By Parent Zone ·
image: tadamichi/stock.adobe.com

Harry

Harry is 21 years old and lives in Scotland. He is the eldest child of a family of five, with one brother and one sister.

“It hit the whole family hard”

Please note: this article includes sensitive topics that some people might find difficult.

My name is Harry, and I would like to share with you my experience of having a family member suffer from depression.

It all started when I was 14 and my Dad was working extremely hard to pay off our school fees. His job had become very stressful and he started suffering from really bad depression.

As I understand it, everyone experiences depression differently. My dad was never a person to dwell on bad thoughts – he was always the optimist in any situation, always the one cracking the jokes when having meals – so when this happened it was a shock to us all.

His usually cheerful and bubbly personality was replaced with a quiet, absent expression; he would shuffle around the house like a ghost.

It hit the whole family hard. We tried everything to get him well again, taking him to hospitals to see GPs where he was prescribed antidepressants. Some worked for a while, but he would always slump back down again.

Some nights were bad. He would wake up screaming and crying from his nightmares. Safe to say, my mother was a saint through it all. She would care for him day and night for what was to become four years of constant battling.

In the fourth year, my mum turned to a local nutritionist who promoted healthy eating and getting out and keeping busy with activities, while most importantly coming off the antidepressants.

While it sounded easy, that was nearly impossible – as my dad had become a shell of his former self, he had taken to eating away his sadness and in order for my mum to dress him easily, he would wear tracksuits all the time.

My brother, sister and I did our best to cheer him up and constantly told him that we loved him and cared for him, while at school calling him every day to check up on him. Finally, we saw that he would come out of his depression for longer and longer periods, each time more cheerful than the last.

He would slump back from time to time, which was hard as every time he came out, we thought he was well again, but it’s not that simple. Some people suffer from depression their whole lives, and I was extremely lucky to get my Dad back to the way he was before he started suffering.

I wanted to write this to give a short glimpse of what it was like for my family and to share one approach that could help others also trying to make their family member well again. But I know that each person’s depression is different, and while one way can help one person another might need a different way to treat it.

From what I have seen, the key is to never give up, and to never stop showing that person how much you care for them, and how you will stay with them through it all. Even if it takes years.