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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 22


It could be you.... 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


Depression and the family:  part 2

When your child suffers from depression

Peter showed early signals of depression. In his teenage years, he suffered with bulimia, an eating disorder often linked to feelings of dissatisfaction with  appearance and a need to feel strong and in control. He ate with the family but when alone exercised madly, growing painfully thin. At university he was self-conscious about his appearance and pretty soon was coming home every weekend, finally dropping out of his course. He always managed to convince his worried parents all was well even when they expressed concern; "He had a way of gently fobbing us off", says his mum. ‘And we went along with it because we didn't know what else to do.'

Recovering his confidence at home, Peter returned to university and took another degree course. Sadly the fear that is in so many parents' minds when their children leave home became reality as Peter turned to alcohol and drugs to help him cope socially. "He had a knack of sounding bright and reassuring whenever we phoned", his father explains. Again, they held back, trying not to voice their concern for fear of alienating their child.

Anxiety and panic made Peter's life a misery and led to his emotional collapse after a heavy night out with friends. The drugs and the booze put too many stresses on his system and he was admitted to hospital suffering from a massive panic attack. This was when Peter realised he needed to do something rather than live with daily fear and stress. He called his parents who immediately came to his bedside and arranged for him to see a psychiatrist. Peter was diagnosed as having depression in 1994, at the age of 26, and began searching for ways to manage his illness.

After finishing university Peter made a living from being a DJ and opened a successful café/bar. Peter's mum recalls that time.  ‘Our fears grew once he returned to university and then stayed to run the bar. Never being drug users or big drinkers ourselves we do wonder if they contributed to his illness. We saw him only briefly every few months. In that short time we never had an accurate picture of how he was feeling. As parents we only wanted the best for him. We were concerned and worried that he felt a failure and that he had placed undue pressure on himself to succeed'. 

It was hard for the parents, on these flying visits, to talk to their son in any depth. They would drive to Peter's home, take him out for lunch and have coffee in his bar before leaving. Peter remembers some of these visits, ‘Mum and Dad would come up and I'd be wasted after a busy night in the bar and a party somewhere. I was exhausted, but by the time they left they could see the bar filling up with the evening crowd. They could see what kind of life I had but were never critical, always supportive.'   

As a family who always talked to one another they felt medication was not the whole answer to treating depression and have reservations about that period of medical care when Peter was being given a range of anti-depressants but no therapy to back it up. But then, something useful did come out of it. Much to their relief, Peter sold his bar and returned to the family home to look for work locally. He realised that he needed the more supportive environment that his parents could offer, and chose to see a Cognitive Therapist.

Coming home was a testing time for all, and still remains so. Peter's parents recognise he has been independent for eight years and needs his adult privacy but have laid down some important ground rules. They know that no matter how many times depression affects a person, there is always a fear each time that it won't go away. When Peter is under-occupied, his mood steadily lowers, so his parents feel the most effective support they can offer is to just be there when he wants them and encourage him to stay active and involved in the family whenever he chooses.

Peter and his parents demonstrate some of the ways of facing depression. After initially burying their heads in the sand, each realised they had a role to play in doing something about it:

  • Peter asked for help following the terrifying panic attack

  • His parents acted immediately to find help

  • They stood back while Peter learnt how to handle his illness

  • They are always ready to support or find other help if their son needs it

  • They provide close support for each other

  • They all communicate with each other honestly and respectfully

  • They do not judge and keep the channels of communication open

When there is depression in the family, there is often a perceived stigma about mental illness. By keeping talking and also having the support of other family members and friends, this stigma can be reduced and the real issues can then be addressed:  the importance of finding the most effective treatment. This has happened with Peter and his family.  

Peter has been taking a close interest in his treatments, and he is watchful of side effects. "On Seroxat I lost my libido and interest in anything but my depression, but an Anxiety Management Course and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) made me more aware of the external triggers, and I also recognised that I had a problem trying to verbalise what I was feeling. It's a male thing",  he says with a smile.

He has found one of the newest antidepressants, Cipralex, very helpful and is dealing with his alcohol problem with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Peter is active in Depression Alliance, a leading UK charity for those affected by depression offering information, support and understanding.

Useful Organisations
Alcoholics Anonymous:
Tel:0845 769 7555 

MIND, National Association for Mental Health
Tel: 0345 660 163 (outside London)
Tel: 020 8519 2122 (London area) 

Medication and Drugs Helpline
Tel: 020 7919 2999 Mon - Fri, 11.00 - 17.00

Depression Alliance
Tel: 020 7633 0557 

National Drugs Helpline 



You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

To view previous articles in this series - see the Relationship Counselling & Advice Index



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