Depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone searched for the following phrase on my blog, and it caused my blood to go cold.

How to stop enabling depression

The amount of misunderstanding in that one simple statement is enormous.   I just wrote a blog about addiction, and now I am back on depression.  So here we go.  Depression and addiction are often present at the same time in the same person. I am a rare example in that I’ve suffered from depression but I don’t abuse substances.  I wasn’t self-medicating my illness with alcohol or drugs.  A lot of depressed people think along the following lines:

“I am miserable and I need relief oh look there is a bottle of whiskey or there is a line of coke, that will make me feel better.”

They do the drugs, it makes them feel better for a short period of time, the euphoria wears off they use again.   The cycle gets worse until the cannot feel joy without the drugs.  That is the pattern of addiction, not depression.

An addict chooses to pick up a drink or use drugs. It is an active choice on their end to engage in this behavior.  A depressed person who is not an addict is not choosing that personal hell.  They have biological illness that is out of their control. Both diseases have genetic components and they’re both major medical problems.

Of course some emotionally manipulative people will use the label of depression to refuse to take responsibility for their hurtful actions or self-destructive ways. Not every person or situation falls neatly into any category, especially with mental illness.   During my depression I had many well meaning friends who blamed me for my illness.  I had text book depression:

  • Wild mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks – some so severe they would last for hours
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Inability to sleep for any length of time – waking after just a few hours
  • Difficulties with concentration and focus
  • Complete loss of libido
  • Lack of joy

I was a mess.  However, I wasn’t in control of these symptoms.   I couldn’t simply turn on happy thoughts and stop it.  I knew whatever was going on in my brain was a physical problem because I had never had symptoms like that before, and the physical effects were so overwhelming.  Like everyone I had periods of feeling sad, but the panic attacks and inability to focus were acute and new to me.  My sleep patterns were all about two or three hours long and then I would be bolt upright.  It didn’t matter how much coffee I drank or didn’t drink or how many Melatonin pills or over the counter sleeping medication I took.  My body didn’t want to sleep more than three hours, that was a physical side effect and it’s considered text-book depression.  What I needed was medication, therapy and time to heal – not tough love.

There are also a lot of misconceptions about depression.  Some people seem to think that a depressed person

  • Is really just lazy
  • Isn’t motivated
  • Has a bad habits – such as sleeping too much, or dwelling on negative thoughts
  • Is just pessimistic or has a bad attitude.

Because it isn’t always obvious to tell a truly depressed person from an emotionally manipulative one, depression is a tricky illness.  After all mental illness isn’t something that’s visible to the naked eye, and the tests for it are largely inconclusive.   So someone who wants to give up and not take responsibility for anything they do could just label themselves depressed and wallow in their misery. It’s not always easy to know who is really suffering from a medical condition and who isn’t.

But at the same time a sufferer can learn to mask their illness.  I have known people with depression who held demanding jobs while raising children. Others who have outwardly seemed perfectly healthy yet when left alone descended into fits of despair.  I was extremely sick and yet I never missed a day of work.  Over time I learned I could hide my symptoms to appear functioning in some situations.   A busy schedule wouldn’t have changed my illness, it probably would have just prolonged my recovery.

To “enable” an alcoholic you must make it OK for them to drink, not point out to them that drinking is the real source of their problem, and allow them to treat you horribly in the process.   Most addicts emotionally attack those closest to them the entire time they are disintegrating.  When you stop enabling the addict you usually have to cut them off, stop talking to them and make them know that you think their addictive behavior is self-destructive.  The addict’s main purpose in life is getting the substance and using.  They will do nearly anything to keep alcohol or drugs their top priority including betraying friends, robbing from them, putting them in jeopardy and causing them harm.

By comparison a depressed person who is not using, is not going to act out in the same way.  Where is the source of depression coming from?  It could be a death, divorce, loss of job, medical bills, work related stress, tension in a marriage or just simple biology as in someone with bi-polar disorder or chronic depression. Should a friend confront a depressed person about giving up their disease?  Get in their face tell them they are causing their own pain, label them depressed and stop talking to them?  I would think that would be the absolute opposite of what you might want to do to a person who is probably suicidal.  Bi-polar disorder especially is clearly a biological illness that requires medication.  Thinking you can talk a person out of bi-polar disorder with happy thoughts or positive thinking is downright dangerous.  It would be about the same as thinking you could talk a person out of schizophrenia or any other type of psychosis.  Also a person with depression is not going to actively attack those around them in the same was as an addict.  For instance, a depressed person usually just shuts down.  They aren’t going to steal your computer to pay for their cocaine habit.

Addicts go to rehab, and usually some type of 12-step program to try to stop using. Depressed people get on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication and usually go into some type of therapy.  The difference is the addict is also willfully part of their own destruction.  Even though addiction is a disease and there are biological and genetic components to it, the addict is still an active participant in their demise.  No one is forcing them to use, they choose to pick up the bottle, down the pills, or shoot up.  The depressed person is not choosing to not get out of bed, to not eat, to not find joy in pretty much anything.  A depressed person should not be “cut off” or confronted for causing their own illness.

There is a fine line between being to the point of needing medical intervention and just a change in attitude.  But in general cutting off a person who is suffering from the real medical illness of depression in order to “help” them would bring about the opposite effect.   The depressed person would feel that much more isolated, unloved and alone. A depressed person needs compassion not “tough love”.  An addict will just continue using so when you cut them off they will return to their drug of choice, until of course they seek help.  Again since most addicts also suffer from an underlying depression the distinctions between these two illnesses get murky.

I’ve heard countless stories from readers of this blog about depressed relatives and loved ones who isolate themselves.  They verbally demean and attack anyone who tries to help them, and push away any hope they have for a recovery.   Again even in these situations, there is not much anyone can do for the depressed person.  A relative or loved one’s behavior is not going to change their mental illness.   If you’re in this situation, you’re NOT the cause of that person’s mental illness.  If they’re tearing you down, and constantly hurting you, the best thing for you to do is to disengage.   Try to get that person help, but not at the expense of your own emotional and mental well-being.  That’s not the same thing as enabling an addict.  People who give an alcoholic booze, or make it easier for the alcoholic to drink are enabling the addict.  A loved one or relative is NOT encouraging or making another person’s mental illness worse unless they’re either abusing that person or preventing them from getting medical help.

Unfortunately when I battled my disease I had a few friends who blamed me for being sick.  The people who helped me out the most, my friends who had also suffered from depression.  Instead of judging me they listened.  They knew I needed help and tried to get it for me.  I got books, recommendations on therapists, and patience.

I was not choosing to have panic attacks, run away anxiety, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, wild mood swings, black thoughts, suicidal tendencies or the inability to feel joy.  What happened to me was reactive depression due to a sudden and extreme trauma.  I was also suffering from bouts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I got better thanks to an anti-depressant, therapy and time.  What also helped in my recovery  was my active choice to not engage in self-destructive behavior such as drinking, or doing drugs.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of therapy that does help re-train a depressed person’s brain into a more positive outlook.  In his book Feeling Good“, David D. Burns, MD touts the benefits of CBT but at the same time goes on extensively about the pros and cons of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs.  He also does not tout CBT as an overnight cure as recovering from a serious depression takes time for anyone.   Some severely depressed patients respond positively to electroconvulsive therapy, which is fairly radical treatment directly on the brain, not exactly a 12-step program.  As scary as this treatment seems, ECT is quite effective in some patients.

With about 30 seconds of research I found this highly misguided group.

From what I could tell the website hadn’t been updated in five years and they were no longer holding meetings. The entire concept of Depression Anonymous seemed to stem from one book, by one woman.   It certainly didn’t seem like the huge and organized group that is Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.  And I know there are people who criticize both AA and NA for being ineffective as the success rate is low, but I have known many people who have greatly benefited from AA, NA and other 12-step programs, so I am not sure what to think.

I wish deep in my heart that people would stop misunderstanding what is probably one of the largest medical health problems of the past century, and will continue to be a problem in the decades to come.  I had no clue until I went through it myself, but my depression was so much more overpowering than any extended weekend of self-pity.  What I suffered from and what millions of others suffer from all over the world is a real medical condition that if left untreated can lead to intense suffering, and for some suicide.

I am eternally grateful to my many friends, relatives and loved ones that had the patience to see me through my bout with this horrible disease instead of deciding to stop “enabling” me and cut me off only to have me spiral downward.  What helped me the most was not rude interventions with scolding, tough love and lectures but when my friends sat me down and begged me to get medical help.  The friends that cut through the static in my head the most were friends who had struggled with depression themselves.   Had people decided to stop “enabling” my behavior and cut me off I might not be here right now to type this blog.

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29 comments on “Why Enabling Depression is Impossible.

  1. TMS Therapy Mama

    So true. Just wanted to add that it could be meant other ways too. My husband recently asked if he was enabling my depression by doing everything for the house. Cleaning, groceries, etc. He was happy to help but wondered if it just gave me more of a reason not to do anything. I got terribly mad at first, but I do think he just wants me to get better and wants to make sure he is not contributing to my descent.

    It also has been brought up as to whether my doctors are enabling me by having my appointments over Skype and not making me leave the house.

    I guess there are a lot of ways to potentially enable, but none of it would be the depressed person’s fault or something they can control.

    1. julietjeske

      I think it is hard to say really. I would talk to your doctor about it. Because I know a daily routine and structure can help, but I also know of people who have had horrible depression while taking care of children and maintaining fairly demanding jobs. So even with plenty of activity and responsibility if your brain is sick, then your brain is sick.

      And when I was battling it myself, I lived alone and my apartment was usually pretty clean, my cats were well taken care of but it didn’t stop the panic attacks, the crying fits or wild mood swings. I don’t know if it would have been any different if someone was taking care of those responsiblities for me. I think it depends on the person, the situation and level of illness.

  2. Joy

    Helping is ok… Enabling is definitely NOT ! Face reality… Get help and don’t expect your partner to do everything for you. It is your problem that you have to solve. Its not their job to solve it for you. They have a life to live too! Remember you have to live with you, they do not! They choose to live with you, so get yourself help!

  3. kittyran

    As someone who has dealt with mild depression myself and as someone who’s partner contends with major depression, I completely disagree. It is completely possible to enable someone who’s depressed! Allowing them NOT to confront and challenge their negative thought patterns and/ or to become complacent with their treatment is enabling them. Allowing them to take their moods out on you is enabling them. Being depressed does not give one license to do whatever they want under the big banner of depression. They still are accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). Not holding them accountable is enabling them. Depressed or not, there are still bills to be paid, the world still turns and unless you’re a hermit, we still have to deal with other people.

    Not enabling means a lot of love. It means a lot of patience. It means a lot of forgiveness. It also means a lot of respect – for them as an adult, as a sentient being who is capable of making choices. Some of them are extremely hard, but there is still choice *in the long run*. I’m not talking about choosing whether to be depressed or not, I’m talking about choosing how to deal with the depression symptoms, choosing to try to deal with the causes and choosing how to deal with the fallout when things go off the rails.

    If someone’s body is sick, you don’t just let them sneeze all over you and let them go out in winter without a jacket on. If someone is “brain is sick” as you say, you help them stay on track with their meds and support them while they do the extremely hard work of sorting through the causes of their depression and changing the thought patterns that don’t serve them well.

    Anything less is enabling them.

    1. julietjeske

      Sure, but what I am talking about are people who treat depression like addiction. So they “cut off” a person who is depressed and stop feeding the beast so to speak.

      I don’t know your partner, but I suspect he or she might also have addiction problems as they are incredibly common with depression.

      Also there are plenty of people who suffer from depression and have children to raise, bills to pay and work 40-60 hours a week on top of it. They get all of these things done but are still depressed. Of course there are people who will sit around and do nothing, blame their depression and expect you and everyone else to deal with it. I am not talking about those people, substance abusers will do the same thing. What is really annoying are substance abusers who refuse treatment and then sit around and blame their addiction for every short coming. I think we all know plenty of people like that, but that is not what I am talking about.

      But the two diseases are not the same, and there is a reason why Depression and Substance abuse are not treated in the same way. Cutting off a depressed person and blaming them for their depression is reckless and dangerous. What your partner might be doing is emotional manipulation, which can happen with any disease, any problem and is not excusable as depression. I don’t know you or your partner, but I will say that I am often disturbed with the amount of venom and blame to is directed towards people suffering from clinical depression. I suffered from it and am now passed it, I never abused drugs or alcohol and I did not overeat or engage in self-destructive behavior yet I was out of my mind with the physical symptoms of depression. If my loved ones had cut me off, or disengaged with me during that time I would be dead right now. In my case the disease had become larger than myself, it was completely all consuming and I needed medical help. So again, I don’t know enough about your partner or you, so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on your specific situation. But there will always be people who use anything for a crutch or a reason to manipulate people and it can be their family history, addiction, depression, a divorce, financial situation or any tragedy. That is nothing new, but it isn’t what I am talking about here.

  4. Alex

    Saying that enabling depression is impossible is to both misunderstand the myriad ways it is possible to “enable” someone (from the perspective of a clinical psychologist and how they use the term) and to not understand the multiple ways that different people experience depression.

    Take a person who’s depression is characterized by a tendency to retreat and seek self-isolation, pulling back from the world yet seeming to cope on some basic levels. They are not lying in bed with the shades drawn and not bathing and eating, rather they are having difficulty with work, with family relationships, etc.

    A spouse who says “I’m just going to pretend everything is OK and take care of them and not rock the boat as that’s what they need to get better” is enabling that person’s depression in a very significant way.

    1. julietjeske

      Sure, but to truly stop enabling them you have to CUT THEM OFF. Cutting a person off like that could kill them, urging them to get help is not enabling them. The biggest misunderstanding that I find is when people see the isolating behavior, blame the person who is depressed for being self-destructive and then “cut them off”. They are treating depression like addiction and that is a huge mistake. Sure a spouse who pretends everything is OK and does nothing to help a depressed person as to not “rock the boat” is not helping the situation, and might be “enabling” as you might call it. I don’t think the term “enabling” should be used in terms of treating or dealing with a depressed person.

      With an substance abuser you stop enabling them when you cut the person out of your life completely or as much as you possibly can. When you cut them off you are trying to help the person to hit rock bottom. In depression rock bottom is suicide. So it is not the same thing and I completely stand behind my article and my opinion.

  5. kittyran

    You state that “to truly stop enabling them you have to CUT THEM OFF.” Um, what? What is your source on this? It’s completely out of touch about current practice. If this is what you think not enabling is, I sure can understand why you wouldn’t want someone to equate it with depression. That said, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health states that “Families and friends are an essential and enduring support to people with mental health and addiction issues” and that “An open, cooperative and respectful rapport between families, clients and health care providers ultimately benefits everyone.” (source:

    I’d say that this is pretty much the opposite of cutting someone off.

    You also say, “Sure a spouse who pretends everything is OK and does nothing to help a depressed person as to not “rock the boat” is not helping the situation, and might be “enabling” as you might call it. ” I don’t just call it that, it’s (part of) the actual definition. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary states that an enabler is, “…one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior… by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior”. This is entirely applicable to depression. “Self-destructive behavior” means lots of things and is not exclusive to abuse of drugs, food or alcohol.

    I get that a lot of people equate mental health with addiction. I can understand that you’d be frustrated by it as well. It’s awesome that you have not self-medicated in this way, but stating that it’s “impossible” to enable depression is actually the reckless and dangerous thing here.

  6. mia

    I’ve cut my dad off, I suspect he has severe depression and I hate myself for it but for my own self I just can’t be around him any longer until he at least acknow;edges an issue. He refuses to even consider he may be depressed yet shows a great deal of signs and more importantly he also refuses to admit to a problem, or worse admits to it and then lies and says he didn’t admit and that everyone else is lying!

    It’s exhausting and between that, the contnual silent treatment and his emotional and mental abuse of my mum and attempts to control her and us kids I will not see him anymore. Infact, actually, technically he has cut me off- we had an argument about his controlling behaviour and abuse, he basically told me to FO and then expected me to come around apologising, expected to pretend nothign was wrong after years of pretending??? He’s ignored me since the FO.

    I’m sorry but sometimes people don’t just cut off a depresed person to try and snap then out of it or because they equate it with addiction, soemtimes it’s for themselves for what they need and soemtimes they just can’t watch that persn anymore. While i appreciaite what you’ve written you have to understand that for every depressed person, there’s those struggling to help thm and find support to. And those who have no choice but to cut them off because they become cruel and abusive and allow themselves this excuse.

    I love my dad but he’s not *my dad* anymore. He’s a vile, spiteful, controlling thing and much as i love him i also hate him. He’s cuttign people off left right and center rather then face the reality that there is an issue and much as we all want to help him, get something of our dad back and want him safe-what can we do? He won’t even consider there’s a problem, despite everyone saying it. He even ignores his own siblings or lies to them! We *are* enabling him to let him get away with cruelty and controlling and we make ourselves all sick in the process. I’ve ‘enabled’ in this manner, as has the family, for years now- we can’t anymore, it’s effecting the newest generation and had shown in the behaviour occassionally of my youngest nephew, he’s acting like Grandad and it’s not on.

    So I’m sorry but I respectfully have to agree and disagree. You cannot enable the depression itself but you can enable some bad behaviours that go alongside it and should be challenged. It seems from herea clear line has no bee drawn between being deliberately ignorant or intolerant towards soemone depressed and cuttign them off or pushign them away or challenging them because they are hurting others and using the depression almost as an excuse or crutch to do so. i also don’t agree that people cut off because they think depression is like addiction, I’m sure soem do but certainly not all be far and equating them like that left a bad taste in my mouth.

    1. julietjeske

      In a situation like that there isn’t much you can do. I am sorry. In your case I would agree with you, but that isn’t what I wrote my piece about. So you are right. But to clarify a situation like your father’s is not what I am writing about. He is pushing you away, so that’s a different scenario.

      In my case I wasn’t actively pushing people away like your father. That is just another thing entirely. He sounds like a very sick and troubled man and I have no idea what to tell you. You can’t allow him to continue to harm you, so yes, you have to get away from him and give yourself distance. However I wouldn’t consider that “cutting him off” in the same sense as a person cuts off an alcoholic who is still drinking. You are just protecting yourself and you have every right to do so.

      What happened to me and so many others with mental illness is that we get blamed for causing it. Some people think we can just snap out of it if we change our behavior – much like addiction. Sadly it doesn’t work that way. What was happening in my mind was biological and no amount of getting up every morning with happy thoughts was going to stop it. So when some people decided I was the cause of my depression and cut me loose it just made everything worse. There are many who confuse addiction with depression and somehow think that just getting up and going to work and thinking happy thoughts will fix it. I wish it wasn’t true but I ran into that attitude repeatedly. People just don’t understand the disease. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or remotely take care of myself. No amount of happy thoughts or positive attitudes would have stopped the very real and medical problems going on in my body – anxiety attacks, insomnia, loss of appetite, spiraling black thoughts. I needed medication and time – not tough love.

      In the case of your father, he probably has a lot of other issues on top of his mental illness, and I would bet is not a young man. So his stubborn refusal to get help is just building a wall between himself and anyone who could help him. If he is abusing substances on top of it…well that is just a disaster and is tragic. His scenario isn’t what I was talking about in this article, you pulling away from him ins’t going to fix his disease or make it worse. Sadly it won’t have much of an effect he is a prisoner to his own sick mind. I am sorry you have to deal with it, and you have my deepest sympathies. Hopefully he will get medical treatment somehow. Some people never do, it’s estimated that only half of Schizophrenic patients ever receive medication. People just don’t take these diseases seriously, they treat them like a weakness when in many cases it’s an illness just like any other and require medical treatment.

      Again I am sorry for your situation. I hope he gets help somehow. And please don’t hate yourself for needing distance from a toxic person. The illness is bigger than he is, try to remember that. It really has nothing to do with you. His brain is sick, it’s very sad.

  7. lisa

    im having such a hard time with a guy ive known for years, recently got involved with, and am now being put thru sheer hell as he has gone no contact (not just with me) due to major depressive disorder. lets just say hes going thru a divorce and about 10 other really bad things health, family, and legally/financially related. we have feelings for each other. ive done all I can to make sure he knows id walk thru fire for him,even enduring him basically asking me to step out of his life for “a while” until he gets thru his crap. I know he mentally cant handle anything let alone a relationship. I know hes so depressed. he is on celexa. he goes to therapy. I get it. what im having a hard time with is his inability to see at all that I have feelings and this hurts really really terribly. I dont contact bc I know he needs his space to hold his act together, but then I wait say a month or two and just check in and he flips out and repeats the same stuff. I feel like he doesnt care at all and I truly want to help but he wont let me in. im also going thru a divorce and would think naturally we should be leaning on each other but his situation is decidedly more of a quagmire than mine. ihe has said hes not trying to be rude, or selfish he just needs me to understand and basically wait for him. is he being totally unreasonable and am I being stupid? or what? help please!

    1. julietjeske

      You are not a bad person for staying away from him, he is in a major crisis and he needs help but if he lashes out at you, there is not much you can do. It sucks and I’m sorry but the best thing you could try to do is to contact a family member of his, or someone who can’t help but be attached to him such as a sibling, a parent, someone like that if you can get a hold of them and let them know you are concerned. I went through this myself with a friend who was suffering from a mental illness and it was extremely hard. Nothing you can do will help him get better, he needs professional help it sounds like. He might be getting it, but it may not be the right medication or the right therapy. You can’t fix him, you can only take care of yourself. I’m truly sorry that you have to go through this. Do what you can but don’t let him tear you down, he could come out of this and things might get better. He could just need time. I’m sorry for you and your friend. And please don’t take his actions personally, he sounds like he is in a major crisis and his emotions have nothing to do with you. Hang in there, and just try to be the best friend you can to him – sometimes that means just allowing him space. If you think he might harm himself – then you might have to get a little drastic and try to insist that he get help. Otherwise I would just give him space and hopefully he will come around. So sorry, these things are rarely easy.

  8. lisa

    thanks juliet.

    Im very frustrated with him but i keep reminding myself that its not all about me.or my needs . or my feelings right now. And no i am sure he wont hurt himself and has never made any reference to that. See, right after we got together- and trust me it took for f’ing EVER! (no could could ever say we rushed!- we were colleages, then close friends, and it led to more. ) – he had a series of life altering things happen, causing him to shut down. He even used those words. Repeatedly told me he cant do anything with me as long as all the bad stuff is going on bc of his stress levels. ( i would have felt better if he said oh idk, i care about u too much and want to be able to be totally present and happy and in a good place if im going to b with u??! ) uGH!! I asked him to see me for 10 min. He replied he cant “as it would completely put him over the edge” huh???? of course my heart broke hearing that and when i asked why seeing me would do that to him, he said its pressure, whether good or bad and his dr said he needs to stop with the texts emails, etc, and not just with me. So now he is talking to his best friend a lot, so at least he is talking to someone. I dont know this friend personally. He knows it kills me to not have contact, and he did this once before for 4 months until he resurfaced telling me he missed me and needed me. now this again. Id like to choke the crap out of this dr of his. When we talk and are together, its always been fabulous. I know it cant be me. or why would we be doing this dance for so long right?! he has to care on some level under all the sadness. I know theres no one else ( women). Every time i catch him, hes alone, or at his moms. ( we are both late 30’s). I have 2 kids, he has none. over the course of almost 3 years now, we know each others secrets, sensitive personal info, and not to mention the most wicked chemistry i dont think ill ever encounter again in this lifetime. tells me i know more than his best friend which i told him means the world to me. So, he trusts me. on some level! Quite frankly, i love him. I think he senses this. Ive never loved my own husband this way. There is a connection that goes beyond words and signs i cant explain. ( i believe in all that btw). I always tell him i care and i worry- a lot. he definitely knows that. he has said in the past he cares, when asked. hes not a real emotionally available person even in the best of times! What keeps me hopeful is i remember what hes really like before he had the bottom fall out of his life. He has a tremendously prestigious job that is total stress and pressure. he may be facing surgery soon for a back injury. a mom to care for who is disabled, a bitter divorce going on and mom’s legal trouble he is trying to help navigate. ( she had her retirement money stolen). Oh, and his close friend is dying. I want soooo badly just to be there to hug him and not say a single word if talking would be too much. but he just cant. I know hes not lying or making any of this up. I just knowif it were me id want HIM! and nothing else. i cry for him every day. I told him i cant go another 4 months bc it was way too painful last time. And he said “i hope its not i just cant give u a timetable of when i can… i did say i would when we got thru our crap and towards end of convo u push and ask when. how bout a week, 2 weeks, a month– and then i get angry and flip out and i dont want to resent u” I know i have to stop and leave him be for now. It just hurts not knowing and feeling like he dsnt care about me the way i do him. Im always questioning to myself, what i mean to him.

    Thanks for listening to my rant and i sooo value ur advice. : )

  9. lisa

    i dont think im enabling though, by taking his crap of what i perceive as harsh treatment, or am i? Ive never sed to him– ok whoa, wait a f’ing minute pal….. or anything like that. Im not one to walk on eggshells with anyone, but i do feel he needs me to tread lightly during this dark period of his….: ( its so soul-destroying.

    1. julietjeske

      Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to just give them space and walk away for a while. You will give both of yourselves a break and you might be surprised what happens. You are both under so much stress, it’s just hard for anything to really grow in a situation like that.

  10. Author Catherine Townsend-Lyon

    What a FANTATIC Blog Post! Thanks for speaking up and Speaking OUT!! I do suffer from Depression, Panic & Agoraphobia disorders, and Bi-polarII which went undiagnosed my doctor said, most likely for years. It wasn’t until I got DEEP into a Compulsive Gambling addiction did my Bi-polar symptoms really come out. If got SO BAD that I attempted to take my Life Twice……..People say that the Lord doesn’t do MIRACLES anymore??? WELL, I say there full of CRAP!!…….I’m a miracle! The lord pulled me back from the Edge of Darkness, Void, Blackness, and told me MY Purpose here was not done!

    I have written MY STORY of Addiction, Childhood trauma, abuse, Life Challenges with Mental illness, and Recovery……MY MISSION for my Book, my Blog, and for myself is to help *SHATTER* the *STIGMA* around all of it……and to help others in Recovery, or be there when they reach out for Help. YES, I have days that I have to PUSH myself not to just stay in bed, or to LEAVE my home……..but Medications have come a long WAY in helping people function and live better Lives! OH……and THANKS for stopping by my Blog too!

    Warm Regards, Author, Catherine Lyon 🙂

  11. gillion

    I am suffering with stress and anxiety. My sister suffers from with depression. She is at University and may be evicted because she has not claimed the additional financial assistance. Although it is November she is already skint and may be evicted because she has not completed the financial assistance again. I supported her from the previous 5 months over the summer with food, encouragement, staying at my place and money but am now not willing or able do so any longer- I need to heal me. I though she just needed practical support and then she would be able to take it from there after the holidays.

    I realise now my help should have included going to the doctors but she always said needed to go and she would do so.

  12. Pingback: Why Enabling Depression is Impossible | My Blog

  13. Pingback: Why Enabling Depression is Impossible | staceymoses114

  14. Amaranth

    THank you thank you for writing this. I showed this piece to my husband. He has chronic depression and is very often unable to do much of anything. I am getting lots of flack from friends that I’m trying to keep the household running and just end up doing the things he experiences he cannot do due to depression and anxiety. Unfortunately that means right now I’m working a full time job, and I was doing all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and everything. (though now some housemates are taking some of the cooking and cleaning over in return for rent) People keep telling me I have to set limits, and I set limits based on when I get hurt by trying to do too much, but not based on other people saying ‘well he should be able to cook or go shopping even with chronic major depression’. So I give what I can, but not more.

    Unfortunately there are those examples of people who do keep their job and work and are able to function through a depression, and they always point at those people for why it’s ok to stop giving practical help to someone with depression and anxiety. I do not feel I am enabling but I’m struggling with well meaning friends and housemates who feel I should ‘cut him off’ from the work I do and just let him become homeless or live in a really unhygienic situation and only take care of myself. The problem is I do take these things over and how much am I thus making it harder for him to motivate himself to try things to change? He takes meds and tries to go to therapy but often cancels therapy, and any progress goes in millimeters, and has gone that way for years.

    Sometimes I don’t know anymore if I’m doing it right. But at least he’s not gotten worse over the years. But am I keeping him from getting better? And how can I help his motivation without cutting him off or creating unhygienic or unhealthy situations (like stopping cleaning or stopping to make sure he has food would do). ? Any tips would be very appreciated.

    1. julietjeske Post author

      It sounds like you’re doing everything you can. He might need a new medication or a different dosage as it sounds like whatever he’s on isn’t doing much. Meds are a guessing game. The doctors sometimes have to switch them out as drugs become less effective over time in some people and others just respond better to different medication. I would definitely talk to his doctor about this as soon as you can. I would also encourage you to try to take time off for yourself. You might have already tried this but if you can get another family member or friend to watch him from time to time, it will definitely improve your own health. These things are quite hard to deal with. Your friends are doing what a lot of people do with depression, they treat it like addiction. Your husband won’t get better through tough love, in fact it might kill him. Meds and therapy are his best bet. You might want to mix up the therapy, try a new type or a new doctor, anything that could help him get more involved. There are the rare exceptions of people who use the excuse of depression to just give up, but most it sounds like your husband has the real medical illness. You know it when it’s the real thing, it’s so much worse than just feeling blue for a week or so. I’ve been through it myself and it was absolutely dreadful. It sounds like you’re doing everything you can do, so I would talk to his doctors – his therapist, his medical doctor, anyone you can and tell them that he’s hit a plateau. It could be that a new method of therapy or a new drug could help you see more improvement. His brain is sick, and it’s not an easy thing to fix. I’m sorry for you both, it’s not an easy thing to go though. Hang in there and stay strong and please don’t forget to give yourself some time off. It will probably benefit both of you!

  15. Sharon

    I have been battling depression for three decades and no amount of medication, therapy or time has helped me even slightly. It it crucial to those of us that have no medical cure to have people stop saying there is help and medicine and therapy is that help. A third of depressed people have not been helped medically and that is a LOT of people. After a couple decades of going the medical route, I turned instead to learning to live WITH depression. I still hope someday for a cure, but just as physically handicapped people need to learn to live with their handicap, emotional-mental handicapped people can too! I started a business, turned up my generosity to others, exercise… I am proud to say I am a highly functioning depressed person and it is all as it should be. I accept my depression as a part of what challenges me in life and choose not to let it control my destiny. I see too many depressed people not helped by our inept medical industry, go backwards into their depression and too many people helping by enabling their depressed loved one. There is nothing wrong, and quite the opposite…very loving to hold that depressed person up to a higher standard of functioning. There is enabling of depression that is very much hurtful. I think there is a misunderstanding on loving supportive ones as being judgmental of a person’s depression instead of seeing that it is love to hold a depressed person accountable. I know it sounds cruel but speaking as one that has to go through life in irretractable misery myself…people should be expected to get out of bed, groom themselves, help around the house/yard and hold at least a part time job…for their benefit as well as those who live with them. It can be done as people confined to wheelchairs get all this done. As Dr. Seuss put it…”today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!”

    1. julietjeske Post author

      Sure but plenty of depressed people hold jobs, take care of children, clean their homes every day, and still suffer from serious depression. The “enabling” I’m referring to has nothing to do with physical activity or an outlook on life. People who don’t suffer from the disease have no idea that the depressed person can’t just “change the attitude” and magically get better. I’m sorry medication and therapy hasn’t worked for you. I was also severely depressed at one point in my life yet I lived alone, worked, and got plenty of things done throughout the day. My apartment was clean yet I was plotting my suicide daily. I was calmly trying to figure out the best way to handle killing myself. Not every depressed person refuses to leave their bed or gives up on grooming, hygiene etc. that’s actually a stereotype and a huge misconception. Meanwhile I had people who blamed me for my wild mood swings and panic attacks with nonsense that was right out of a 12 step program. I wasn’t an addict and never had been one. I needed medical intervention and medication and CBT saved my life. Nothing anyone else could have done would have. No behavior on the part of an outsider would have turned me around. My family lives about a 1,000 miles from me. I live, work and pay rent in the 2nd most expensive city in the country and to some appeared functioning but I was seriously sick. Plenty of depressed people are just like I was and treating depression like addiction doesn’t help them. It just puts more blame on them and makes them feel worse.

  16. Bill

    I know I’m a late-comer to your comment section, but I figured I’d get my two cents’ worth in too.
    As a society, I think that we’ve come to see blaming the victim as acceptable and even somehow noble. I can’t tell you how many people I thought were friends who have turned their backs on me and left me to drift when I have had depressive episodes.
    The odd person who didn’t abandon me, chose to moralize and lecture to me instead.
    It makes me wonder if I’m the problem or if they are. Now I just stay alone and do my own thing. I actually hate people now.

    1. julietjeske Post author

      I hope you don’t hate everyone. There are always good folks out there they can just be hard to find sometimes. I went through the mill when I had depression. A lot of people blamed me for the disease or somehow thought I could snap out of it easily. I hope you get help when you need it. You’re not alone. There are tons of people out there who also struggle. Take care and don’t give up hope. I came out of extreme darkness and am much better off now. Therapy, CBT and time all helped a lot as well as my friends and family.

  17. becomingchange

    As someone who knows a lot about both, depression is no more or less a choice that addiction. I don’t think the article gets addiction right at all. I feel like shit, I’ll have a beer. I feel like shit, I’ll stay in bed all day. Both involve the brain tricking people, and both aren’t really a choice. Depression is medical and people have no choice. Addiction is medical and people have no choice. Either you get that it’s a disease or you don’t. It’s like saying someone with OCD has a choice not to clean, or my friend who just stood me up because she can’t get out of bed had a choice, or the person that self harms has a choice. Remember alcohol and drugs are just another version of self harm, like eating, like like cutting. Otherwise I do like the article!

    1. julietjeske Post author

      I am one of many people who experienced depression, but not addiction. So there was no binge eating, alcohol, drug use, and certainly no cutting. Cutting is actually considered a separate diagnosis and treated with the same types of drugs people take for OCD. No self-harm just a chemical imbalance in my brain – loss of appetite, failure to feel joy, lack of sleep, panic attacks, the classic signs of depression. The reason why addiction treatment is quite different from depression is because the two diseases are quite different. A person who is giving alcohol or encouraging alcohol consumption in an alcoholic is in every way enabling addiction. If they are paying the rent of an alcoholic without confronting them about their disease they are enabling their addiction. Now try living with depression and having another person treating it like addiction. Why don’t we have rehab for depression? Because it’s a very different disease. A lot of folks have both, but not everyone who suffers from depression is an addict. I have several friends and relatives who have been clean and sober for years. It’s a struggle but they have chosen not to drink, do drugs or engage in addictive behavior. Most of them have gone through a 12-step rehab program and continue to go to group therapy or engage in some type of maintenance for their disease.

  18. Joanne Hemming

    Hello juliet
    I totally agree with all that you have written about depression!. I have suffered with depression on and off for many years now from an early age due to being brought up with an alcoholic mother who also suffered with depression she was also full of bitterness and hatred towards life family and mostly with my father. he was never a father in the true sense.
    I also suffered a breakdown. my own personal hell!!.. ..completely on my own with three children to care for at the time with my own divorce as well as my mother and fathers divorce! And all what that brings up that you find you’re having to face. Which I ended up I couldn’t!. And broke down!.
    A very scary place to be.
    I am one of 6 siblings we all ended up being a very dýsfunctional family as Im sure you can imagine!. And broken! 2 other siblings also suffer with mental illness.
    Ive spent the past 20+ years trying to manage my depression along with medication and counselling!. Of which has helped a lot!. Over the years. but I still struggle a lot too!. Due to a lot of family issues that im still trying to come to terms with and trying to work out with myself. One of which is that im estranged from my children!. I’m desperately hurt!. Confused and feel so betrayed.
    I have learnt several life skills to help me in daily life through counselling and self help books. Etc. So I feel I’ve accomplished something in some ways of trying to manage my depression in a way that I can function better and become more empowered in my life. I knew I had to make a conscious choice of either giving up on myself and ending up like my mother!
    Or I can work hard at trying to mend my ‘brokenness’ and find a happiness within myself and within my life!!.
    Because I’ve now recently been made more aware that life is so damn short!!. After so many young people have died around me!!..
    i want to be able to go from this life and say that i have tried to make some happiness in my life and have somewhat succeeded in some areas!. I will also add that I would and have brought some happiness into some friends lives. which in turn makes me happy!!
    But there is still a constant struggle and torment that I can’t seem to get past or let go from that im still working at.
    My mother had a very lonely life . died a very sad and embittered woman. Who had nothing to show for her life. No legacy of sorts other than her hatred and bitterness. Which flowed down into my sister’s and now my children!!.are infected.
    I can’t and determined not to be infected with such a powerfuly destructive emotion.

    Now I married my second husband of. 8yrs .. We have been together for 23yrs. When we first met it was wonderful we were very much in love and happy!. For probably the first time in our lives.
    However problems arose!. With family!! children!!.. etc. And it was at this point I realised my husband couldn’t cope!.. as He too suffers with depression!. Which I wasn’t aware and I don’t believe he has been aware neither!. Over the years!. We have both destroyed a lot of the relationship between us! Because of the ‘clashing’ of each others ‘depression’!! We have both tried to work at it together!. But my husband has pushed me away again and again and has built a ‘brick wall’ around him.. and has lost a lot of interest in me and our marriage and in having any quality of life.
    Now!!. I believe that my husband has got himself into a terrible ‘rut’ more so now because he’s been retired now for 2yrs Which has brought new challenges and problems to face!
    he refuses to accept he has ‘depression’!. He only accepts he gets down at times but he can deal with it!. He blames me for everything!!. It’s groundhog day virtually every day!. He has no friends!. He doesn’t want them!. He has no social interest in life outside our home!. He is adamant that he is happy with this!. I can tell you he certainly is not!!. But he is in denial!. But with all the big clashes between us which starts from trivial insignificant incidents or something wrong that is said!. Etc all hell breaks loose and we have both yet again believe it’s the end of the marriage!.
    I’ve tried so many ways to get him talking!. I’ve tried so many suggestions about how to help himself I’ve tried to get him to see this doctor!. All to no avail. he turns it around on me! I’m the one with the problem!!.. he is a very stubborn man.
    And I’m at a point where I feel now I that maybe I need to get out of this marriage!. In order for him to face the reality of his own depression!.. Because I do not know what else I can do to help him with his depression! When I’m struggling on a daily basis with my own! And now I’m feeling suicidal myself!. It scares me!!.
    .At the end of the day we have only got one another!. Since he has lost his own family and children through pushing them away and having this brick wall around him.
    It is and has been very scary for me!. I still love this man and I still live in hope I will get to see something of the man I fell in love with all those years ago!. But I fear not!. Just as I fear I will never see my children!!.. I don’t know what to do anymore!. I’m tired and emotionally exhausted. and I’m very scared about the prospect of breaking up with my husband!!.. how do i help my husband to accept he has depression?! And how to help himself without him feeling abandoned by me?!!.. And without me ending up breaking down??!. .

  19. Joanne Hemming

    I feel a bit foolish!!. Since I’ve just realised this blog was a discussion about ‘enabling depression’.. I have foolishly tried to give you a brief history of my story living myself with depression and trying to help and support my husband with his own depression. To search for some kind of answer to my problem!!. I think it’s because of my state of mind that i get into, that I end up making a fool of myself!!..
    I’ve questioned myself as to whether I myself have enabled my husband to be depressed??!!. Which is why I googled the question and your blog came at me straight away!. I recognise so many things with myself my husband. In your blog!.
    I do think that I have enabled my husband’s depression in some, maybe in more ways than I realise. As to how it has progressed so much
    And really don’t know how I go about stopping enabling my husband to be depressed even though he won’t accept it. But he still displays all the traits of depression!!.
    I have got out of the home for a period of a few days of ‘timeout’ for us both. Believing it might help us to have a complete break from each other in view of awful tension and atmosphere at home! and for him to maybe see and accept that he suffers with depression!. But it has backfired on me as he feels I just betrayed him!!. I have tried to explain my reasons that it has got this bad between us that I couldn’t cope anymore!!. And had to get away..

    I will say that regarding depression and addiction. depression is a sickness of the mind from many causes!. I believe addiction is a symptom of depression!.. I have never done any kind of drugs other than those prescribed! However I have and was drinking very heavily at stages and periods over my years of depression!. As said before I made a conscious choice of either giving up on myself giving in to the likes of drinking and ending up like my mother a alcoholic!. A bitter one at that. Or to struggle and work hard at picking myself up And try to get the happiness in my life and with myself. Of which I chose to save myself!!..It has been a uphill struggle over the years.
    I believe that at some stage with an addict there is a small window of hope that an addict can overcome there addiction. If they are determined enough. With of course a huge amount of help and support!!.. it may include a little bit of ‘tough love’ too!..sometimes you need to be a bit ‘cruel to be kind’ with some aspects.
    if that window is missed.. the hope fades. And the addict slowley becomes a lost soul!!.. As my mum did!. This is from my own experiences. And what and how I’ve come to understand a lot more about depression!.!!.

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