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Blurred lines of depression and mental health conditions - Carers UK Forum

Blurred lines of depression and mental health conditions

For issues specific to caring for someone with mental ill health.
Hi all

I just wondered if anyone could advise or has experience of their own around when behaviour is caused by a mental health condition. I've posted previously about how my husband has been suffering from depression for most of this year and we've experienced many marital and relationship problems as a result of it.

Because my husband hasn't always suffered from depression I am aware of the man he is when he isn't unwell. Therefore when he has gotten angry at me (usually when I try to get him to talk or ask him too many questions) and says / shouts horrible things at me I tell myself it's not him, it's his illness, when he gets better we can pick up again when he is himself again.

Is that the fair, kind thing to do or am I being naive to believe the anger, resentment and general removal of himself from the part of his life I exist in to be all down to his depression? He is only this way with me so a few people say it's because he's close to me that he takes it out on me, I could agree with that in the beginning but after over 6 months it gets harder and harder to blame the illness and not take it really personally.

I'm not looking for solutions but am interested in other people's experiences, maybe even if there is someone who has seen their partner get better and work through that bad nasty stuff.
Hi Emma
In my experience the "working through the bad stuff" can work if done through good, professional counselling. I have been depressed a few times, normally when too much bad stuff is happening in my life at once and it morphs into depression or stress. Now I know to find some form of "talking therapy" sooner rather then let it fester and grow.

There's a good list of all types of mental illness, including depression on the Mind website, and crucially, under the carers heading it suggests ways of responding to each
https://www.mind.org.uk/information-sup ... -problems/

It is common, in fact imho, it's the worst aspect of MH that the sufferers do tend to take it out on their nearest and dearest, and often blame them too, quite unfairly.
Any MH carer needs a coat of armour and a strong backbone not to end up the whipping boy (or girl) and it is difficult to balance that while still being supportive and loving

Sometimes when someone is deeply depressed almost anything can get too much for them and they withdraw or attack. At those times you have to back off and only slowly slowly introduce the topic again. It's frustrating slow. Better to say "I'm here for you when you are ready" than to push and question.

That's not say you cant be clear about your needs and your limits, you are still a person in your own right.

Is hubby taking his medication? Attending appointments? having counselling?
Hi Emma
I'd be interested to hear what others have to say about this. My experience for over 17 years was in putting up with my (now ex-) husbands volatile moodswings, primarily because of concealed depression. He blamed me for all the unhappiness in the house, became angry when I wouldn't side with him on metering out unjust punishment on our three boys; and was generally just putting his head in the sand or distracting himself with bringing home "bargains" and showed increasing signs of becoming a hoarder. Hoarding is a form of OCD, which is classified as a MH issue.

The thing is, it is SO difficult when you are in the midst of the storm, to assess whether you are helping someone, or just enabling them to continue with their (potentially abusive) behaviour. I endured years of put-downs and being derided. After I finally divorced him, it emerged that our middle son, who is now 23, has schizophrenia, and that similar serious MH issues run in my ex- side of the family. I now care fulltime for my son, as he lives with me.

It is very very challenging to be a partner to someone who is struggling with depression. If your husband is willing to try all the available resources for his treatment, meds, CBT, exercise etc., then this allows you to "let go" a little bit of trying to "fix him".

Best of luck. Let us know how you get on. xx
Thanks both for your replies.

It's so difficult, I think I've had every reaction possible to my husband's illness - concern, care, resentment, anger, frustration, fear the list goes on. Our marriage just seemed to disintegrate around us as a result of the depression and erratic behaviour and my failure to keep everything else going (household, look after our son, work full time) but not feeling able to call out anything negative in case it made my husband worse. Then often I would not be able to take any more so start to ask questions for my own emotional security and sure enough that will make him defensive and angry and that then causes me to retreat back for a time before the nasty cycle just repeats itself again.

He has been taking his medication (save for one awful 48 hour period where he didn't and we thought we'd lost him) and I've been trying to support him getting some counselling but that's taken a lot longer than I would have hoped not helped by the fact he's asked to swap counsellors twice (which I get because it won't work if he isn't 100% comfortable) so where as I am about to have my fifth session (we made enquiries for counsellors the same week) he still hasn't gotten past an initial introductory one and is back to the service my workplace provides finding him someone different. I realise this is not his fault but when you've been the target of someone's frustrations and anger for so long it's hard to not have some selfish reasons for why you just want to see any sort of improvement in them.

To keep going I tell myself it is just his illness (it helps that we had so long together where he wasn't ill so I know the other side to him) and I remind myself of our marriage vows in sickness and in health but I have days and weeks (like this one) where it's so much to put in when you get so little back. Then I feel guilty because it's such a selfish outlook to have but how much do you put yourself at risk of getting ill yourself from all of the stress?
Hi Emma
The one thing I have learned from supporting:
A) my young adult son through depression and anxiety over last 4-6 years
b) a relative on the ASD spectrumwith other MH too, over 30 years
C) an alcoholic friend for 20 years until her suicide
Is that the carer/supporter has to look after themselves first and foremost, else it is easy to be dragged in/fall in and start suffering too. And by suffering I mean stress, worry, guilt , anger, sadness, frustration to unmanageable levels.

While it feels easy and natural to step in and try to fix the person, or their environment, I have found that any recovery has to come from the person themselves, and that recovery needs some outside professional help too

. In A) my son he benefited best from private, professional counselling . The first counsellor was chosen by me (recommended by a friend) and he never really engaged with her. Over 18 months later when he was at a really really low point he finally agreed to see someone else. This time I showed him a list of local ones, he picked 2 or 3 to meet to see who he got on with. Luckily the first one was ok and he saw her for over a year. He seemed to take things better from her than from me.
b) my relative does not relate to talking therapies at all. His mind really does work in a different way. He is now in a specialist residential unit after years of the family trying to cope, but we had to admit professionals do better with him., and that it is better for the family for him to be away.
C) my friend refused all professional help, was in total denial of any problem and just drank more and more until one day her house burned down with her drunk inside it.

I say this to show that no matter how concerned I have been, how helpful, how thoughtful, how treading on egg shells, how walking a tightrope, essentially at the end of the day an adult caree needs to be responsible for their own well being and that professional help is needed.

A carer needs to be strong and ready for a long, Long haul so:
Develop strong self-worth - counselling, mindfulness, assertiveness
Get support for you - friends, family, groups, forums
Stay fit and well, physically and mentally

I learned that I had to be assertive and not allow things to impact my life too much, so I had to say when I was being hurt, when things affected me and when things were not acceptable behaviour. Indeed it was quite like bringing up a young child, setting limits,, and sticking to them, discouraging bad behaviours and praising the good.
Imho, a lot of MH/depression is based in low self esteem, so praise, praise and more praise, encouraging of things they can do, allowing more and more responsibility and offering support, but only giving it when asked for. Sometimes i felt i had suggested things over and over but they were only taken up when caree was ready. For example had suggested going to gym many times, but it was only taken up once he was comfortable going out alone. I hadn't appreciated how hard it was for him to be out alone initially.
He also got in a bit of a panic (which never showed visually) if too many options offered at once and needed much more time to process information and thoughts when the depression was at its deepest.

So essentially, backing off and looking after myself, and therefore 'modelling' healthy behavoiours while continually praising and offering support "what do you need" rather than "go for a run and you'll feel better"
I had counselling too, one didn't do much , the last was different and expensive and seemed to take all the guilt away.
This forum was invaluable for learning and not being alone, and for venting

I didn't have to cope with aggression or anger much, but if there signs best to back off and change track. Walk away until they are calmer and more receptive.
personally i would not accept any phyiscal violence to myself or anyone else. That's a definite line not to cross.

This is only my own experience, I have no idea if any of it helps you, or anyone else. It seems to be working for my boy, helps with the feelings of guilt and sadness over my relative and helps me understand why I, and everyone else , was kna hiding to nothing with my friend.
There is little or no help or support out there for carers of MH and its sad and frustrating we each have to find our own way

I hope this helps you a little, you are important and a person of worth. Don't forget that, ever

Wow Mrs A!!
That's a wonderful post.
I know my circumstances are very different, but to occasionally put myself 1st is beneficial to me and my family. To hubby too,as I can visit with a smile etc and cope to a point. I still get the tummy knot when I walk in. With dementia, as it deteriorates, it's really the loved ones who suffer the most, so I keep being told.
You should write a book!
It's very hard (impossible?) to 'judge correctly' when it comes to someone with mental illness.

I think the most useful 'metric' to use is whether they are 'making an effort'. If they are, then you cut them slack.

It doesn't matter if the 'effort' is not very productive, it is the EFFORT that counts.

By analogy, we wouldn't criticise someone who had a broken leg for 'not making an effort to run' (!) - we'd praise them for 'making an effort to limp slowly'.

EFFORT is the true measure to my mind, not 'results'. (Though hopefully effort DOES lead to results, however gradually).

But, yes, sometimes we all get tired from 'making an effort', so some 'down time' is also allowed!!!!

There is a difference - though hard to discern as an 'outsider' - between being 'overwhelmed' by their MH problems and 'wallowing' in them. Hard to call it though! (Which is why I focus on 'effort' as the most useful and fair metric)
Thanks for the further replies. Thankfully I have a great counsellor who is also helping me through this.

I'm going to take on board the note about effort, as my husband is making an effort in some areas (takes his meds, started the gym, speaks to lots of people about his condition (just not me!) so I cannot criticise him there.

Getting him some counselling has been a while other battle but I've done what I can to give him extra channels to the NHS route and it's in his control to take that further. In the meantime my counsellor has told me I need to focus on my own self care so I'm looking at simple ways I can do that either with a toddler in tow or while he sleeps in the evening.

Thanks again all I get so much out of advice received here, makes the world a slightly less lonely place.
It's good to hear that your husband IS making a visible effort - it's important on so many counts.

It means he achieves more than he would, AND, I think, it must 'reassure' you that he is not just 'collapsing' on the nearest 'support' (you!) that he can find.

If we know people are truly 'trying' then we are far more likely to be well disposed towards them, and want to find ways of helping them.

It's empowering, too, for the person making the effort - it shows them they are not entirely helpless in the face of adversity, that they CAN achieve 'something' by sheer determination and will power .....and courage. For courage is most definitely required in overcoming mental illness.

I'm glad you are looking after yourself - 'who cares for the carers?' is a HUGE issue. If you 'break' you are no good to anyone, including your children, your husband and yourself!

All the best with his counselling too - such a fight to get it, as it is SO expensive for the NHS.

Can he get involved in 'self-help' groups at all?
Ps - it's great he's started going to the gym. Again, benefits on SO many levels!

It's very 'masculine' so good for his self-esteem. It is 'bonding' with other gym users - it's a 'group' so to speak (even if they don't speak much to each other in that typical male way of NOT 'chatting'!!!!). It is improving his physical fitness (SO key to mental well being, and vice versa).

And, best of all, it is encouraging the natural release in his brain of our 'feel good hormones' our endorphins, thus gradually reducing his reliance on pharmaceutical 'feel good' chemicals.

Only slight word of warning - and it is VERY slight - if he really 'takes' to exercising (and I hope he does), be on the look out in case it becomes 'obsessive'. In some folk they do become 'addicted' to exercise. This is partly 'good' as in, it's about the 'best' addiction one can have for all the reasons above.

But the one 'downside' is that if he is prone to OCD or some such, the gym 'rituals' could possibly become 'malign' if excessive.

There is also the issue of becoming addicted to one's own endorphins!!! But, overall, that is SO much 'better' than becoming addicted to pharmaceuticals, that it's not really a major issue. Simply be on the look out.

Finally, the one thing he must NOT do is start using anabolic steroids to improve his gym performance. Some gym cultures are highly dedicated to 'performance' rather than 'fitness' - the latter is ONLY ever 'natural' and NEVER induced by chemicals like steroids. Steroids are simply 'cheating'. One might as well take 'uppers' to do well in an exam. It's just cheating and doesn't count at all as 'real' fitness!

(And of course anabolic steroids have significant health dangers too)

PS - be aware that as and when he really gets into 'gymming', he will NEED to keep going. Although it isn't an 'addiction' (ie, a 'bad' thing) he will become 'twitchy' if he doesn't exercise. This is quite 'normal' for gym users - even I, when I'm on a 'good run of exercising' (ie, are regular at the gym) get twitchy if I don't go for two days. After three days of not going I lose the twitch and have 'slobbed' again. But my nephew, a personal trainer, has to work out every day or he 'twitches'.....it's presumably some kind of withdrawal from lack of enodrphins!

PSS - this is NOT to put you off! It's to watch out for the maybe 10% 'downside' of working out - the advantages WAAAAAAAY outweigh ANY 'issues' such as twitchiness etc.