How Does Depression Affect a Family?


As depression has become better understood and depression treatments have become more socially accepted, people have come to understand that depression affects not only the sufferer, but everyone around him or her.

The pervasive sadness and loneliness of depression can have wide ranging impacts on friends and loved ones. But exactly how does depression affect a family? The following are some of its effects on those not directly diagnosed with the disease.

Effect on Spouse

As the person closest to the depressed individual, the spouse is often affected first and most. He may notice the signs before anyone else; indeed, some people are so good at hiding the signs of their depression that their spouses are the only ones to ever know anything is wrong. The spouse is also most invested in the depressed person's happiness. This is a source of strength, insomuch as it gives the spouse reason to help the depressed individual. Unfortunately, it can also be hard on a spouse if treatment is refused or unsuccessful. Prior to a diagnosis, the spouse might feel that he is a failure for not making his loved one feel happier.

A person's depression will, over time, lead to similar depression in their spouse. He may also withdraw from the depressed person or from social life, and may engage in risky behaviors. He will often suffer from poor self-esteem. If a person's depression is so severe that it begins affecting the person's job or friendships, the spouse might feel anxiety at having to pick up the slack.

Effect on Children

Children are very malleable. This can be a good thing because it allows them to more easily recover from traumatic experiences, but it also means they are more susceptible to negative emotional environments in the first place. Because they need more positive encouragement and attention as they grow, children are less likely to thrive when one or both parents are depressed.

Like the spouse, children may feel compelled to help take up the family activities that their depressed parent is neglecting, forcing them to "grow up early". Also like the spouse, children of depressed parents are more likely to develop depression or other mental illnesses in childhood or in later life.

Effect on Extended Family

Away from the nuclear family, depression can still have effects. Family that lives far away may experience anxiety about not knowing how the depressed person is doing or fear of not being kept in the loop. Meanwhile, family that lives nearby may stop visiting due to the negative atmosphere. Concern over the children growing up in such an environment, while justified, can lead to confrontations and acrimony between family members.


Ultimately, if you are depressed, the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to seek or accept treatment. Don't be afraid that you will not be able to take care of them while you take care of yourself. Indeed, by focusing on your own healing, you are helping them. It helps to think of the family as one entity. If one part (you) is sick, the whole suffers, and the emphasis should be on healing the sick part.


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