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How do you handle someone with severe depression?

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Okay, this is my second attempt to try to resolve this problem.


To cut a long story short, my mum is in hospital for depression and she lives 7.5 hours away with my stepfather, in a remote part of the next state. She was diagnosed with severe depression about 6-8 weeks ago and has had to be re-admitted to hospital due to it worsening. The health system seems to be pretty good where she is staying and thus far, my stepfather has handled most of her affairs, briefing mainly my sister on her progress.


The problem is i am feeling rather powerless being so far away. She rang my sister a few weeks ago and told her (and me) not to come to their house and now she is in hospital. When she and my stepfather married, they basically formed their own life and my sister and i were (seemed to me) somewhat of a 'hassle', or so it felt. They have quite a strong marriage and he is a good guy, but frequently, whenever i had a conflict with her, she would let him take control when she couldn't handle it anymore.


So, now he is negotiating on her behalf, which is great, but i am finding it hard to get any info on her because he will not answer the phone and is acting like it is this big secret. Also, he said she wants to call, but she "cannot" because she is stuck in her own mind, much like a paralysed person is stuck in their body. I am like "fine"... if she doesn't want to call, okay. And then i receive an email back about Sartre and "free choice" and that when somebody is psychologically impaired, do they actually have "free choice"? When all i wanted to know what how my mum was.


I tired to call her on the direct line in the hospital that he gave me but it was engaged. He said that she is worried that my sister and i were anxious about her and i said we weren't but now i am starting to get sick of this. I can't do anything to help her, i cannot contact her and to be honest, i don't think i am prepared to get a "vegetable" on the phone (for want of a better word, but apparently she is finding it hard to put on a happy face, and that is okay, but i don't think i am going to be able to handle talking to her in that state).


Even though my mum has been telling me she loves me over the past few years, she never did when i was young and i am wondering what the big change is. Infact, she used to make out her kids hampered her life, so i am finding it hard to know how far to go and how to protect myself. I have been depressed too in my life and haven't asked much from her or them. Infact, i don't think they even knew. I grew up protecting myself emotionally and have become somewhat of an island.


The other thing is, i know my mum doesn't have anyone else except my stepfather as both her parents are deceased. And truelly, underneath it all, i don't think she really wants to speak to anyone. I know how she works and when she doesn't want to do something, she won't. That i am not taking personally. It just seems to me that she has had a lot on her plate over the last few years and has had a breakdown, so it may be better if i leave her alone and call her when she feels better.


So, i was thinking i would send her a card saying hello, happy new year etc., and to call or email me when she feels better (better, not healed. able to talk to people), and i will call her back.


There's nothing i can do really. I can't crawl into her skin and make her feel better and i don't want to take this on emotionally because i spent most of my childhood (and some of my adult life) being miserable and i don't want to be unhappy anymore. So, i am quite happy to be a support, but that would require practical advice when she gets better and maybe general chit chat about things to take her mind off it all. I don't think it is my place to deal with the root cause of her anger as I don't think i am equipped to do that.


Does anybody know anything about severe depression and how to handle it?


I tell you one thing, i am over getting messages like that from my stepfather. In fact, after this, i don't know how much contact i want to have with him. I have done nothing but respect he and my mother's marriage but somehow he thinks he can speak to me any way he likes.


Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

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This may help you start to understand depression - chances are she's always had it somewhat which may explain some long-term behaviours that affected you as a child.


i think the card or letter is a great idea. It lets her know you are there for her if she needs you.


I would try reverse psychology on step-dad. Thank him for keeping you informed, tell him you appreciate all he is doing for your Mom and ask him to keep you in touch. Lay it on a bit thick - the carrot rather than the stick approach may make him more cooperative and forthcoming.

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Thanks DN. I think i will play it cool with him for now and when is all back to normal (and hopefully it will be), i will continue to ignore him when he launches a philosophical attack on me. He is too intellectual, he needs to relax a little and join the rest of us mundane humans!


He would kill me if he read this!


PS. Am i being selfish for not wanting to be affected by this? I can't help but feel guilty.

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i wouldn't say you're selfish for not wanting to be affect by all of this - mentally ill parents are hard to deal with and from my experiences, kids often just want to get away and have nothing to do with their parents. it's almost as if it is too much of an emotional burden as you said.


i agree with DN in that i think this depression is something that your mom has had for a while and affected you in your childhood. it might be beneficial to you to get some counseling to help you sort through this.


as far as dealing with mentally ill parents, patience is a virtue. i think the card/letter idea is great - maybe you could do it on a regular basis. when your mom does get better (and hopefully she will!) she will greatly appricate the gester. and like you said, at this point i would give her some space and time to heal mentally before you expect more of her.

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