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How Can You Support a Family Member Who’s Depressed, Even If You’ve Never Gone Through It?

The Real Housewives of Orange County's Emily Simpson reveals a family secret.

The Real Housewives of Orange County mom Emily Simpson is an open book when it comes to her life — her marriage being on TVpregnancy struggles, and going through surrogacy with the help of her sister Sara.

Now she’s revealing her mom had debilitating depression while she was growing up and is talking about the toll that can take on a family. 

The situation can be especially hard when it’s a parent, but what can you do when a family member is suffering from depression or mental health struggles of some kind? How can you be supportive even if you don’t quite understand what they’re going through?

Author Susan Elliott, who has written about dysfunctional relationships, says first and foremost to create boundaries.

She explains:

“If we have to support someone in our family who is suffering from anything, the first thing is to realize what you can and cannot give,” she tells Personal Space. “There is a fine line between reasonable and unreasonable. Sometimes you have to take care of yourself otherwise you can’t be there for someone else.”

Self-care is key and self-care involves sometimes saying no, she adds.

“Maintaining your own life is important], which includes fun and living it up,” even if that comes with a side of guilt. “Even if someone in your family is depressed, you still have the right to enjoy yourself. Don’t be guilty. An empty person cannot help another empty person. You must be fulfilled and living your life (including taking breaks from the situation.) Carve out time for yourself and the things you like to do. Without looking out for yourself, they are going to drag you down instead of you lifting them up.  Your health is vital for everyone.”

As for what to say or do to support the person who is struggling, Health Communities advises there are certain ways to start the conversation.

"Say 'I've been concerned about you lately,' or 'I wanted to check in with you because I've noticed that you've seemed different. How you are doing?' Follow up with questions that gather information, such as, 'When did you start feeling this way?' or 'Did something happen that caused you to feel this way?' Move on to 'How can I best support you right now?' and 'Have you thought about getting help?' Although it may be difficult to ask this next question, you need to determine if there is a suicide risk; ask: 'Do you feel so bad that you don't want to be here anymore?' If the answer is 'yes,' get immediate help."

Hope to Cope reports that "some children, even younger ones, will be naturally compassionate, understanding, and helpful. Others will struggle far more, which makes how a parent communicates so vital."

A French study published in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics found that children are more likely to develop behavioral or emotional problems if their mothers are chronically depressed.

“A most important piece is to be very clear with the child that they are not the cause of their mother’s sadness, anxiety, irritability, or anger,” says the report. "Reassure your child that you’re doing all you can to get better. In fact, for some women, realizing the trickle-down effects of their depression becomes an important motivator for recovery."

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