My husband has depression and I didn’t know for the longest time.
That was hard to write, because while this isn’t about me, I can’t tell you how bad I feel for failing to support him enough in those first few lonely months. People who suffer from mental health issues and invisible illnesses will often experience this problem with those of us who should be there for them, and speaking as one of them, I am so sorry if I have ever let you down.
Personally I think there are two stand out reasons for this problem, and if we work together we can tackle them. I don’t have all the solutions but the website this blog is on has a lot of valuable resources, please use them to explore in further detail what I have discussed below.
One in four of us have or will have mental health issues but it isn’t talked about enough. It has a huge stigma attached to it which it doesn’t deserve. As we begin to understand more about the medial science behind these illnesses it is fading, but change is inevitably slow and we need to speed things up.
If I broke my leg, I wouldn’t need to do much more than show up at A&E and let the doctors take it from there. I wouldn’t need to convince anyone I was more than just a bit bruised and that if I could walk as normal if I really tried. Nor would I have to rely on my communication skills to get across that I needed help, because all the bleeding and shouting would do that for me. We need to get to a point where this is true for mental health as well, it should be enough to show up saying ‘I need help’ to get it. The sooner we are at this point then the quicker mental health sufferers will open up and the less time they have to spend alone.
When my husband confided in me that he had depression I was so glad he was able to. I truly wanted to be there every day for him, to provide support, to be his cheerleader and anchor and anything he needed. In the beginning I don’t think I did a good job, although I am trying harder now. Our lives were very busy, we had a new baby, he was job hunting and we were moving house. Sometimes I let myself forget what he was going through and failed to make allowances for that.If he had had a visible illness there was no way I would have forgotten how he was feeling, but short of making sufferers wear a small badge, mental illness is invisible and because I couldn’t see it, I sometimes forgot about it. No one can see the demons other people are fighting but what we can do, the least we can do, is remember that those demons are there.
Tom told me that when those demons showed up, what he needed wasn’t lots of smothering attention but the time and space to heal. To start with I found this difficult because I wanted to feel that I, personally, was doing something active to help. Once I stepped back I realised that imposing what I would want on him if the situation was reversed was counter-productive. Tom had told me what he needed, all I had to do was listen and remember. The best way I know to support our loved ones is to ask what they need and provide it without comment, judgement or expectation. One of the harder things for me to realise (I can be a bit slow) was that Tom’s illness was nothing to do with me. He has to fight it on his own but that doesn’t mean he is alone. I am here waiting when he needs me, even if I took longer than I should have to get here.