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Partner Supporting Depressed Mother: How Can I Help?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 6 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Depression Support Long-term Family


My husband's mother suffers from anxiety and depression, which led to psychosis and a short spell of institutional care five years ago. My husband, deeply affected himself by some of the factors which contributed to his mother's illness, feels unable to support her, suffering extreme guilt and anger because of this. My mother-in-law calls her son every day and he talks with her, but it is costing him emotional reserves he does not have.

I understand that people with depression need their families, but this pressure is slowly killing him. She has no husband and no other children. I don't know how to help him and I feel I need to help him before I can help her. We have two tiny children who are inevitably affected by their father's feelings of inability to cope.

(A.L, 1 July 2009)


Depression doesn't only affect the sufferer but also hugely impacts that person's family and friends, which your question clearly shows. It can be overwhelming to cope with the effects of a family member's depression. In fact, that depression can take its toll on everyone and particularly where it is sustained, it can lead to feelings of depression in other family members as well.

Looking at Options

While there is no formula for solving your dilemma, there are some options you can consider. From what you say, your mother-in-law sees your husband (her son) as a regular support person – hence, the calls every day. At the same time, your husband may suffer from guilt that he can't 'fix' her depression as well as anger that it has happened to her and is not going away.

Treatment for Family Members

You don't mention if your mother-in-law is undergoing current treatment for her depression. Is your husband her only support at this time? It's important that she is under the care of her doctor and that she is receiving any appropriate medications and psychotherapy as needed. If your husband is her only 'treatment', it's no wonder he is having a difficult time. In this case, it's important that she sees a doctor.

Family Counselling

Since you have shared that both yourself and your husband – along with your young children – are being affected, it might be helpful to consider counselling for the entire family. Coping alone with the effects of your mother-in-law's depression can be far too overwhelming and having an unbiased, trained counsellor to offer support could make a world of difference. It's worth seeing your GP to find out about counsellor resources in your specific geographic area.

Your commitment to your family and your courage in seeking answers to your questions about your mother-in-law's depression should be applauded. Don't also forget to look after your own needs and mental health. You need to ensure your needs don't get forgotten as you focus on your husband and family. You need self-care as well! Hopefully, you can find the right approach to cope with her depression while she obtains regular support and treatment from her doctor and a counsellor.

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