How can I prevent my struggles with depression and anxiety from having a negative impact on my wife and children? It's bad enough having to cope with these debilitating feelings, but the thought that I'm making life difficult for my family is almost too much to bear. What should I do?
Apparently you aren't so depressed that you can no longer consider the needs and feelings of others. That's worth mentioning right up front because it isn't always true in cases of this nature. Some people who suffer from depression withdraw so deeply into themselves that they really aren't capable of thinking about anyone else. They don't possess the kind of sensitivity that would allow them to ask, "How is my mood affecting my wife and kids?" You do, and that's a hopeful sign.
These feelings are good for you as well as for the rest of your household. They have the potential to provide you with a powerful incentive to get the help and treatment you need. Before saying anything else, then, we want to commend you on your caring concern for your family. We also want to encourage you to follow it wherever it leads.
That said, it's worth noting that depression can distort your perceptions, including your perceptions about the impact your depression and anxiety are having on your family. It may be that your depression isn't impacting them as greatly as you fear. Talk with your wife and ask about her thoughts and feelings, and listen carefully. She may be able to give you a more objective perspective on how your depression is affecting those around you. While you must address your condition, you shouldn't take on a needless load of worry or guilt.
Decisive action is vital in countering depression and anxiety. If you sit back and allow these problems to continue without getting help, you might start to feel better, but then again your problems might just get worse – much worse. The best way to reduce the risk of having a negative impact on your wife and children is to address the situation in a positive, active way. We also suggest that you ask yourself, "How is my awareness of my depression and anxiety impacting my behavior? What am I doing to change my mood and my circumstances?"
There are a number of things you should be thinking about in this connection. Are you talking with your family physician about your anxiety and depression? Have you engaged the services of a licensed counselor or psychiatrist? Do you keep your counseling appointments faithfully and follow doctor's orders? Have you entered upon a regimen of appropriate medication? If you've taken any of these steps, we applaud you. If you haven't, we strongly recommend that you get started without delay.
Once you're moving in the right direction, let your wife know what you're doing to combat your depression and anxiety. This can be a great encouragement to her, and it will convey to her a sense of value as she sees that you're serious about addressing your problems. You can also talk to your kids about what you're dealing with and what you are doing to tackle your problems. Be mindful to do this in a way that is age-appropriate and in terms that they can understand. For instance, you might tell a younger child, "You know how Daddy has been feeling really sad lately? It doesn't have anything to do with you or Mommy, it's just the way I get sometimes. But I want you to know I am seeing a doctor who is helping me to get better and not be so sad anymore." If your children are older you might talk with them about what depression and anxiety are, and how you feel when you are experiencing them. You can also let them know what steps you're taking so that these problems won't continue in a way that could be harmful to them. You'd be surprised what this kind of communication can mean to the members of your family. In talking with them openly about your struggles and letting them know that you don't intend to accept the situation passively, you'll be giving them a tremendous gift of encouragement and hope. In the end, you'll be stronger and closer as a family if you make an effort to get on the same team and face the problem together.
If you'd like to talk this over with a member of our staff, call our Counseling department for a free consultation.
When Someone in Your Family Is Depressed: Barb Rosberg talks about how families are affected when one member is depressed and ways to deal with the challenges.