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Tips for looking after yourself whilst caring for a depressed family member

answered 08:25 PM EST, Mon May 06, 2019
How do I keep sane whilst helping my adult son with depression

Penny Bell Says...

Penny Bell P. Bell
Master of Counselling, Grad Dip Counselling, Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy, M. College of Clinical Counsellors ACA, M. College of Supervisors ACA, Reg. Supervisor CCAA.
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Caring for someone who is depressed can be exhausting, demanding, and rewarding, all at the same time. As a support person you may feel the need to be the emotionally strong one at all times, but this can come at the expense of your own wellbeing. For this reason it’s really important that you look after yourself as well so that you can be the best possible support to your son.

The way that you can do this is to put time aside just for you. Make sure that you’re physically active in ways that you enjoy, get enough sleep, stay in touch with friends and family who can encourage and support you (caring for someone with a mental health problem can feel quite isolating). And if possible, find a local support group that you can connect into, as well as supportive counselling.

Accept that you will experience a range of emotions such as fear, confusion and guilt. You may feel a sense of powerlessness because you can’t fix or change what is happening for your son or make him feel better straight away. Accept that aspects of the situation are beyond your control and allow yourself to feel your feelings, as difficult as they might be.

Caring for a family member can put strain on the relationship between you so it’s important to care for yourself in that respect as well. This may mean creating boundaries – there’s only so much you can do as a support person. This can be frustrating, especially if your son is resistant to being supported. Keep an open dialogue that acknowledges your feelings whilst encouraging your son to seek other support services as well.

Learn as much as you can about depression – learn the facts so that you can understand what your son is going through and how this affects his behaviour. Avoid using phrases such as “cheer up”, “snap out of it”, “it’s all in your head”, or “you don’t look depressed” as these will make him feel worse. Instead, check in with him by asking if he wants to talk about it, listening (without giving advice) if he does, and assuring him of your continued support.

Keep in mind that your son doesn’t want to feel the way he does – he has an illness that, like any other illness, is largely out of his control to fix. Let him know it’s ok for him to have depression - he is most likely thinking that he must be weak or a failure for having depression - and that you don’t think any less of him as a person.

Have faith in your son’s willingness and ability to recover from his depression, particularly when he doesn’t. Ask him what makes him feel better and gently encourage him to explore these and other options of how he can feel better, for example going for walks, exercising in other ways, taking his medication regularly if his doctor has prescribed it, going to his therapy sessions, and congratulate him when he does things that will help him to get better, because getting motivated to do anything is hard for him.

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Page last updated May 06, 2019

Penny Bell - Master of Counselling, Grad Dip Counselling, Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy, M. College of Clinical Counsellors ACA, M. College of Supervisors ACA, Reg. Supervisor CCAA.
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