"When Someone You Love Is Depressed: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself," Rosen and Amador

Pros: Excellent information; balanced perspective; easy to read
Cons: Could have covered even more; some resources now outdated
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 1/15/2003

It’s very difficult to deal with depression problems–as either the person who’s depressed or someone who cares about a depressed person. I’ve been in both positions, and neither is fun. There are many resources out there, though, for people who have mood problems. There aren’t nearly as many for the people who love them. Maybe it doesn’t seem like such a big issue. After all, it’s your loved one who’s depressed, not you. Maybe you’d even feel guilty about admitting that you need help, as though you’re being selfish and focusing on your own problems rather than hers.

The truth is, depression has a huge effect on people. Not just on the person who’s depressed, but on everyone around her. There’s some truth to the idea that depression is “contagious.”* And it’s normal to feel a mix of uncomfortable feelings in response to dealing with a depressed person. So how do you deal with all of this?

*Note: This is not “contagious” in a medical sense, the way the flu is contagious. The idea that you can “catch” a mental illness from someone is a myth. It is simply the case that if you deal with someone who’s depressed for a long time, the situation can make you feel worn down, frustrated, and depressed.

“When Someone You Love Is Depressed”

The authors (Laura Epstein Rosen, Ph.D., and Xavier Francisco Amador, Ph.D.) believe that depression is the secret culprit behind many relationship troubles (not just spousal relationships, but parent/child, siblings, and friendships). Most people don’t know how to recognize the signs of depression in someone, so they take their loved one’s behavior personally. Even if you do know that someone is depressed, you may not understand all the ramifications of this. When someone withdraws from you and refuses your offers of help, after all, it can be hard not to take it personally. And when you’re constantly dealing with someone who’s convinced that her world is ending, it can be hard to remain positive.

Until now I thought this was just the way it was. You hopefully figured out that the depressed person was depressed, and with luck they got the right kind of treatment. Hopefully that would help things and that was that. But the truth is, there’s a whole lot you can do to help out, and there’s a lot you can do to help yourself as well as your loved one. Helping yourself is important. It isn’t a luxury, and it isn’t selfishness. Taking care of yourself is helping your depressed loved one.

Contents

There’s an entire chapter on how your loved one’s depression will affect you. It can be very freeing to know that it’s okay to feel frustrated. It’s normal to get depressed and down. You don’t have to feel guilty for these things; you just have to figure out how to make things better.

There’s a well-detailed chapter on how to recognize if someone you love is depressed. On the one hand, I dislike anything that encourages untrained people to play at being psychologists–I’ve seen people really mess up their families this way. On the other hand, the authors are very careful to explain that you need to get a diagnosis from a trained professional. Their information is meant to help you decide whether you need to get that diagnosis. It’s also meant to help you make informed choices, better evaluate the help that you seek out, and convince your loved one to seek treatment. All of these are very worthwhile goals.

There are separate chapters discussing depressed partners, children, friends, and parents. I recommend reading every chapter in this book–not just the ones that directly pertain to your situation–because they all have something valuable to say.

There’s a chapter on constructive communication. It will help you figure out how to approach and speak with your loved one without making her feel accused or defensive. There are no guarantees, of course, and the authors acknowledge this. But the information here should help. (There’s information in the book about trying to convince your loved one to accept treatment, and there’s information on working as a team to solve the problems brought on by depression.)

There’s also a chapter on whether it’s fair and right to take care of yourself. This chapter explains how you can meet your needs while still taking care of your loved one. There’s also a chapter on what to do when your loved one turns away your help.

There’s further information on alcohol and drugs and their relationship to depression, as well as suicide. In order to help you and your loved one better navigate the world of treatments, there’s information on psychological treatments for depression, medical treatments, and finding help. You’ll even find out which mental health professionals must be licensed, and what qualifications they should have. After that the authors have included a list of recommended readings and web sites.

The Good

The authors provide a very balanced viewpoint. I dislike extremist psychology viewpoints for the most part; most of them are very one-sided, and tend to ignore some important things. I never once found myself balking at the information presented here. For instance, the discussion about psychotherapy vs. medication will give you plenty of information and then allow you to make up your own mind, rather than telling you that one thing or another is unequivocally “right.”

The book is easy to read. It isn’t sensationalistic–it has an appropriately sober tone–but neither is it dry and coma-inducing. I never once got bored or tired of reading it.

The information provided makes a lot of sense. I started reading the book about a week ago, and it’s already made a visible difference in my relationships with my depressed loved ones. Sure, as the book says it’s usually “two steps forward, one step back.” Changing relationship patterns takes repeated hard work; you shouldn’t expect things to fix themselves overnight. But I’m already having a much easier time handling my loved ones’ mood problems, as well as their reactions to mine.

The Imperfect

I found nothing bad about this book–only some things that could have been better. For instance, I wish there was a more recent edition of this book (it was published in 1997). While roughly 95% of the information in this book does not need updating, information on medical treatments is always changing. Keep this in mind when looking into and researching treatment options. The drug book they recommend (“The Essential Guide to Psychiatric Drugs,” by J.M. Gorman) is similarly out of date.

There were some small holes in the information provided. For instance, the chapter on dealing with a depressed parent really didn’t have much information on what to do if the child is a young child rather than an adult child. On the other hand, they do recommend a book on the subject in their reading list. They also have little or no information on what to do if both people in the relationship are depressive. I think that this can change the dynamics in some potentially serious ways, and a chapter or even section on the subject would have been very welcome.

Also, one of their recommendations is that you should try to maintain as much of your normal routine as possible when dealing with a depressed love one. It helps to act as a buffer against the “contagious” aspects of depression. However, they didn’t say anything about what to do if most of your normal activities include your depressed loved one and require her participation.

Despite the fact that I wanted a bit more information, I think that “When Someone You Love Is Depressed” is absolutely wonderful, perhaps even essential. If you have any doubts as to whether or not you could use such help, then check out some statistics. For example, “If your partner is depressed, your marriage is nine times more likely to end in divorce than if you were married to a nondepressed person.” (Page 4.) Eeek! Perhaps reading this book isn’t such a bad idea after all, huh?

I would encourage anyone with a depressed loved one to read this book right away. It will make your life better–and hers. It could even save your relationship.

Posted in Reviews
One comment on “"When Someone You Love Is Depressed: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself," Rosen and Amador
  1. Wished I had this book when I was still in a relationship then. Because my ex was getting depressed in the relationship, I’ve to call it quits. It hurts but letting her go was something that I felt I could and should’ve done to alleviate her depression. It’s amazing that this is coming from a previous depression patient but perhaps it because I’ve been through it, that I realize it’s important for someone to comprehend and understand. Thanks for the great book review. I’ll be reading it for myself and posting it on my blog. Thanks!

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