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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 63    

                                 July 2007

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.



My son is depressed

Dear Maggi:

I have just read your piece on depression after logging on to look for some advice on how to handle my son’s illness. He is 32. He recently came to me to ask for help as he could no longer manage and had no idea of how to get himself better. He desperately wants to help himself and is willing to try anything even though he is highly intelligent (very high IQ) and looks upon some treatments as 'a waste of time'.

He has tried therapy, drugs and counseling and seen various GPs, to no avail. I’ve managed to get him hospital appointments with a mental health department at my local hospital.

Appointments are few and far between, but now he is being assessed though not knowing what will be the best way forward for him. In the meantime, he gets very angry and tense and generally down. I need to know how to handle this.

I listen if and when he wants to talk but this is rare. He doesn't want to worry me. I’ve reassured him, talked to him, supported and loved him. He knows he can count on me. But he grows ever distant and mixed up.

I wish I could help change his moods, thoughts and behaviour to make him happier, but he says I must trust him to help himself now. He gets impatient and wants to be better NOW. It is beyond our reach to ‘go private’ and he is between contracts so isn’t working.

He is such a caring, loving young man, devoted to his daughter and us as a family (he is no longer with the mother). I hate to see this tortured soul that has become my son.

Any advice?

Maggi replies:

When I read your email it struck me powerfully, yet again, how very hard it is to be a constant and loving parent to someone who is suffering from mental illness. You dearly want to help your son feel better, but all the time see him growing further away from you.
You love him, but he is suffering and you feel helpless.

Nothing you do seems to ease the situation. This must be worrying you enormously, not only are you unable to make him feel better, you are feeling more worn out by the worry by the minute.

He sounds like a loving and caring man and although he might not be able to show his appreciation for what you are doing at present, he will have noticed how hard this is for you. You need to show him that you are strong enough to be there, not just for him but to care for yourself.

Depression is a mental illness, although many fear the term. It is the mind that is troubled and in pain, though naturally the body will be affected. The depressed person will feel lethargic, have broken and disturbed sleep patterns and suffer aches and pains as a result of the imbalance of chemicals being stimulated by the brain’s change in activity.

The feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are frightening, and it is that fear that often leads the depressed person to hide away, become withdrawn or ill tempered. He or she takes less exercise and maybe eats badly, and all these changes mean the brain can’t keep the muscles fed adequately, maintain a normally healthy digestive system or the usual speeds of thinking and reasoning. Everything looks bleak and slows down. Many people will feel they are losing touch and lose their confidence. It is very hard to come to terms with not living up to their expectations of themselves.

You say your son is devoted to his daughter and family. It is also good to hear that has he spoken to you about his problems. You don’t say how long he has been out of the relationship with his little girl’s mother, but it is possible that he is still dealing with the aftermath of that relationship. It can take a long time to let go when what you did have produced the lovely child you treasure so deeply, even in cases where the relationship itself was not viable.

He is between contracts. This might cause him anxiety too. He could be worrying over money and work flow, which in turn will leave him fearing he won’t be able to provide for his daughter in the way he wishes. Reassurance on this point might be useful - if there is an opportunity.

He needs to know that children are at their happiest when they are shown that they are loved by a parent spending time with them, listening to their news or thoughts, talking regularly on the phone, or sending texts or emails when they can’t be together.

You need to take care to stay well and not get too panicked by his depression – not easy when it is your own loved child who is unwell. But to become worn out yourself means that you would be less able to be available for him when he does need to come to you to talk something through – or just to feel he is back in his ‘normal healthy world’ again.
It is good that he has sought help and his assessment is underway. This can take a while when doctors or therapists are so hard-pressed, but once they have worked out how best to help and support your son his journey back to health will have begun. Sometimes it is good just to hear a doctor explain what might be contributing to his condition. Depression is not something that has an instant fix so whatever treatment he has will need to be given time.

You are doing all the right things. You are being a steadfast and loving mother and you need to take care that you don’t exhaust yourself.


The Depression Alliance is an organisation that offers help and support to both sufferers and family and friends of those with depression. Here are some excerpts from their very clear and helpful website that could be helpful to you, your son and others who read your email and recognise some of the problems:

Eight ways you can help someone with depression

  • Remember that they cannot help being affected by depression.

  • Encourage them to talk and listen to what they are saying.

  • Let them know that you care about them.

  • Stay in contact with them. Send a card, give them a ring, visit them in their home. Remember that depression can be a very isolating experience.

  • Help them to feel good about themselves by praising daily achievements.

  • Encourage them to help themselves by adopting self-help techniques.

  • Find out about support services available to them and to you (self-help groups, out of hours emergency support, help-lines, etc). Put them in touch with Depression Alliance.

  • Encourage them to visit their doctor, and ensure that they take any prescribed medication as directed.

Talking to someone who is depressed


  • You're not alone in this

  • You are important to me

  • Do you want a hug?

  • You are not going mad

  • We are not on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through

  • When all this is over, I'll still be here, and so will you

  • I can't really understand what you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion

  • I'm not going to leave you or abandon you

  • I love you (if you mean it)

  • I'm sorry that you're in so much pain. I am not going to leave you. I am going to take care of myself, so you don't need to worry that your pain might hurt me


  • There's always someone worse off than you are

  • No one ever said that life was fair

  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself

  • So, you're depressed. Aren't you always?

  • Try not to be so depressed

  • It's your own fault

  • I think your depression is a way of punishing us

  • Haven't you grown tired of all this me, me, me stuff yet

  • Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days

  • Have you tried chamomile tea?

We can help people experiencing depression, and in doing so can even build a closer and more satisfying relationship with them. Remember though, that caring for someone with depression can be very frustrating and can also make you feel depressed. You may need support at times, too.


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

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