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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 23


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 3
When your partner suffers from depression    

In this, the last of my pieces on depression, I want to look at the triggers for depression in later life and how can we best help those we care about.  

Watch the sky. Soon we'll see the days staying longer, and when sunlight breaks through it will be brighter, stronger, warmer.

Spring, for many who have suffered under the clouds of a winter depression, brings some hope of relief. The suffocating feelings associated with being shut indoors during the wet, cold and interminable dull greyness of winter give way to a sense of liberation.

But not for everyone. There are people for whom spring comes with a deepening rather than lessening of depression, as the spirits of other folk begin to lift.  

This isn't an unusual reaction. Lots of depressed people are sensitive to the feelings of others. They register the change but feel disconnected, even guilty or challenged by someone who, out of a genuine desire to encourage and help their loved one, will suggest an outing or visit "because it's such a lovely day and the sun will cheer you up".

The net effect can be to further remind them that everyone else is out behaving normally and enjoying themselves; that they are not easy to be with when they are down; that they are failing their partner or family if they can't ‘buck up'.  

It is a common feeling, particularly among older men, who may think that they should be strong enough to handle depression, not realising that it is an illness and not a sign of weakness.  

Rory is someone who had great difficulty in admitting to this sense of failure. He found it impossible to get past the feeling that he was being weak in some way and should sort this out himself rather than bother his new partner Pat or trouble their GP.

But for Pat the situation was not unfamiliar. She had got over the idea that men were somehow tougher emotionally and would therefore cope, years ago when nursing her husband through terminal illness as he faced and acknowledged his vulnerability.  

"In some ways Mick left me an unforeseen legacy", explained Pat, "It's as though being with him through that final illness gave me a much more balanced view of how men handle their feelings."

Even so, she admits to getting frustrated when Rory wouldn't talk, and she lost patience when he tried to handle his depression alone. She had always encouraged Rory to visit his GP and it took all her tact and reassurance and also time, to get him to see that this was the best move.  

There are plenty of reasons in later life why people become depressed:  

  • Retirement may not have turned out as they'd hoped 

  • They might be missing their friends from work

  • Money/pension concerns are a worry

  • The body is showing more signs of wear and tear

  • Energy levels run down faster and sleep is not what it used to be

  • They are affected by decline in fitness or changing appearance

  • Family flies the nest

  • Parents or friends grow old, experience chronic illness or die  

All of these are normal events in later life. For many, they can mean the lifting of earlier pressures, or they cause temporary sadness and stress. But for some they are triggers for depression that can be prolonged, intense and accompanied by other symptoms which may have been missed by the sufferer if they have been trying hard to cope and keep busy.  

If this is the case for your partner, try to encourage them to talk to a GP or a counsellor. Suggest they write down their symptoms and take the list with them. It's easy to forget to say the things that are important to a GP who is busy. But depression is an illness GPs take seriously,  and most will try to make time to find out how the patient feels.    

GPs may be able to say if a depression seems mild or serious, and can be remedied by non-drug treatments, or needs medication.

If the doctor prescribes medication do ask questions. Are there side effects of the medication? How long before these wear off and the drug begins to work? (Some drugs can take up to three weeks to make a difference and it is possible to experience side effects for that amount of time.) What is interraction with other medications you are taking (including complimentary ones)?  

There are non-drug treatment options. I list some of them here:  

  • Counsellors work in many GP surgeries nowadays. Talking over depressive feelings with them can be a great release - especially as there are often things which feel too difficult to talk about to someone close. A counsellor will always listen and treat seriously anything said with the strictest confidence.

  • Relaxation is not just about sitting still and watching TV. We need to think about our levels of anxiety or tenseness. Sometimes the body can be very still and apparently relaxed but our minds are racing away. Books, tapes and CDs are available that teach how to relax. Aromatherapy oils can help.

  • You can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day. They are not just for the suicidal but are trained to listen as many times as you need when negative thoughts won't go away. 

  • Massage and aromatherapy are wonderfully gentle ways of relaxing. Inhaling and absorbing beneficial natural oils help to balance the mind and promote a healthier sleep pattern and energy level.

  • Acupuncture is a powerful tool in restoring the normal balance of energy, sleep and feeling of well-being. It may be accompanied with a course of herbs to maintain the effect. 

  • Exercise is often an early casualty of depression. Yet regular walks or other aerobic exercise is very important in combating the illness. The extra oxygen speeds up the blood flow and increases natural production of endorphins, vital to our feeling well.


Recommended reading:  

When Someone You Love has Depression

This book is full of up to date information on how best to support someone who withdraws into the world of depression, look after yourself, how to stay positive and offers explanations of different types, causes of and treatments for depression. Lots of practical advice and helpful information on complementary treatments as well.

by Barbara Baker
Sheldon Press 2003

Help Organisations:  

Depression Alliance

The leading UK charity for people with depression and their families. Provides information, support and understanding to those affected. Has an excellent range of clear and accessible booklets covering all aspects of the illness.

Tel:020 7633 0557 (London) 
0131 467 3050 (Scotland) 
029 2069 2891 (Wales)


24 hour telephone and e-mail service for the suicidal and those in despair or needing to talk.

0345 90 90 90
Anonymous source e-mail service: 




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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