Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia

Family, friends and partners

Many people spoke about the impact, both positive and negative, of friends, family and partners on their wellbeing. When supportive, families and friends were described as being of valuable help. Most people were grateful for the support from family and friends, but did not want this support to be overbearing.

Siblings were an important source of support for many. Parents were also a source of support, including when the person with depression reached adulthood. Indeed, they were often the only support, particularly in circumstances where the person with depression was divorced, often as a result of depression. Others told us about their parents’ efforts to learn about depression to help support them. For some people who attempted to harm themselves, parental supervision was highly appreciated. Some people identified their adult children as their main source of support, but a desire to protect young children from their parent’s mental health problems was also expressed by a few people. Others described mixed responses from family, such as one parent being supportive and the other not showing much understanding.
Family and partners
People who lived with depression for long periods of time had a lot to say about the support they were or weren’t receiving from their families. For most people relationships with family members were complex and multi-layered, and the levels of support they received varied over time.
Older children were often understanding of a parent’s mental health condition and attempted to express empathy and support. When they did not readily do so, one mother experiencing depression created some rules to protect herself from what she thought were her children’s occasionally unreasonable expectations.
Some people acknowledged that, due to the often isolating nature of depression, even when their families and friends were caring and supportive, they could not always take advantage of that support. However, sharing their experiences with others with depression was helpful for most people we talked with. A few also mentioned their concern about not overburdening others with their mental health problems.
Amelia talked about her parents’ attitudes towards discussing feelings when she was growing up and how roles change when children grow up and parents age. She also described how when she was experiencing perinatal depression, her husband was not able to recognise this as a problem nor offer support, but when Amelia experienced a subsequent episode of depression later in her life this changed. Her sense of relief after disclosing her depression to a friend and some extended family members was a common experience among many people we talked with. Amelia also described the sense of solidarity that accompanied learning that others were also struggling with mental health problems, and the valuable support she received from her teenage sons.
For most, support was influential in the recovery process, and critical when they were at their most vulnerable. However, a few spoke of taking responsibility for themselves and appreciating any support received, recognising other people also had their own worries.
Although most people received some degree of support from their families, a few lacked parental support from an early age, which had a tremendous impact on their later life. But even then, people talked about feeling comforted by sharing these experiences with their siblings or partners.
Some people received unconditional support from their partners and spouses. This was particularly important in the absence of extended family members in the lives of people who had migrated to Australia.
A few spoke of having to reorganise their whole domestic lives so that they could be helped with their depression. In few instances, wives who were at home went back to work, to give husbands suffering from depression the space and time to get better.
Some people talked about a journey that their family members went through before they were able to support them - in terms of educating themselves about depression and relevant support services. For others, couples' counselling was helpful to maintain relationships. Others talked at length about feeling unsupported by their spouses throughout their depression and this having consequences for their relationships. For a few older people, becoming physically dependent on family members sometimes led to feelings of isolation and abandonment. Such feelings were particularly prominent when spouses were often unavailable due to their involvement in other activities. Comodor was hurt when his depression was met by disbelief from his wife, who claimed he was ‘just lazy’.
Support and understanding from friends was important to most people we talked with. Varying experiences were described, ranging from being provided with ongoing support and care from a few trusted friends, through to being told to ‘snap out of’ their depression. Some talked about feeling neglected by friends when their depression was more acute, but still supported once they got through a major episode. Others described feelings of living through depression alone. If support was offered, it was very important for most people that this be done in a non-judgemental and non-patronising manner. In some instances, people acknowledged that feeling alone was a result of concealing their depression from others. A few people who migrated to Australia and did not have extended family members around particularly appreciated the support of friends.

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.



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