health podcasts

A close friend's death triggered my depression, but none of my family believe me.

Content warning: This post discusses suicide and will be disturbing for many readers. 

As told to Nama Winston.

My name is Sarah*, I’m 39, and I have depression – not that anyone believes me.

My family – my parents, one brother, and one sister – think they’re experts on depression. And according to them, I don’t have it.

The difference between sadness and depression. Post continues below. 

Video by MMC

You see, my brother has had severe depression for years. He’s attempted suicide a couple of times. As a family, it’s made us band together, and we’ve attended group therapy and done everything we can to support him, including lots of research.

In fact, my parents pay his rent because they accept he can only work part-time. That’s just what needs to be done when someone in your family is so unwell.

It’s definitely been hard on my folks. Dad has well-managed depression, and he feels a lot of guilt about it because it’s commonly known that there’s a genetic component to depression.

Which is one of the reasons it astounds me that my parents, and sister, don’t accept I am struggling with my mental health, too.

My depression really set in about three years ago, after the death of a close friend. It was the first death I’d experienced, and I couldn’t cope. Knowing I was sinking, fast, I went to my GP and got the treatment I needed.

But I also needed the support of my family and considering our approach to my brother’s situation, I fully expected it, too.

I didn’t get it.

Being mindful about dad’s guilt when it came to my brother, I raised the topic with my parents carefully.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’m struggling at the moment,” I told them. “I’ve gone to the GP and I’m on meds now.”

My parents were shocked.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” dad said. “That’s just grief – it will pass.”

“But I need help getting through it, because it’s triggered depression in me,” I replied, confused, thinking they of all people should be understanding what I’m saying.

But they didn’t. Mum was silent the whole time, and to this day, she hasn’t said a word to me about it.

She didn’t even look at me when dad told me I was being “dramatic”.

Mamamia Out Loud discuss depression and why it’s seen as the “uncool mental illness”. Post continues below.

Their reaction, and refusal to accept what I’m saying, has been the most difficult part of my recovery process. Even my sister told me off when I tried to talk to her.

“You can’t just use that term because you’re sad,” she said.

“David* [my brother] has real depression, and you’re not in any way like him.”

Although that hurt to hear her say that, it was also a relief in some way, as it gave me an insight into why I wasn’t being taken seriously.

Basically, my family knew me as ‘the strong one’, the one who’d always made the group therapy appointments, the one who got my brother into the hospital he needed, the one who held our family together when my parents were crumbling with worry about their son.

And now it was my turn to be supported, and they couldn’t believe ‘someone like me’ could have depression.

The truth is, while I kept it together for my family all of those times, it wasn’t easy. In private, I would often cry about my brother’s future and my dad’s unnecessary guilt.

No one ever saw that, not even my sister. I wouldn’t let them. I would arrive at my parents’ house for family dinners, face full of makeup, blush to fake cheerfulness. So no one ever asked me how I was.

Looking back now, that was the sign that it was assumed I would play a certain role in my family, and when that role changed – when what I expected of them changed – they couldn’t understand.

ADVERTISEMENT

They didn’t want to.

It’s been utterly amazing to me how they can support my brother so unconditionally, but not me. Deep down inside, I know it’s because his depression is more obvious than mine.

I haven’t called the family in the middle of the night with a suicide attempt. I haven’t needed hospitalisation. When I was struggling, I took myself to the GP and got the treatment I needed.

I realise now that simply didn’t fit their definition of depression.

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a ‘functioning depression’, but I think that’s what they see me as; someone who couldn’t possibly be struggling with her mental health because her hair is always washed and she goes out with her friends and she’s eating well and not abusing any substances.

They don’t know the emotional effort it’s taken for me to do those things. And now, when I’m trying to tell them, they don’t want to hear it.

After a year of trying to make them understand, I’ve given up. I now know the only person I can rely on to support myself with my depression is me.

At least I have that.

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14. 

Feature image: Getty 

Podcast Listeners please tell us your feels for one of FIVE $50 vouchers. We don’t need many respondents so chances of winning are high.

MMSurvey
00:00 / ???