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I’m depressed, but my family needs me. How do I get help? Add to ...

The question: I think I’m severely depressed. I've never seen anyone professionally about it because of family issues. My eldest daughter is already getting help for her depression. And my younger children are having a hard time dealing with my divorce. And we are not doing that well financially. I try to be the rock of the family and be emotionally available to them, rather than the other way around. How do I get the help I need, and help my family too?

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The answer: For most people, seeking help for a mood issue – for the first time – is huge. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to not only admit that you are struggling, but then to seek professional help. The difficulties involved are only compounded if you are the primary caregiver and caretaker of your family.

Although we have come a long way as a society in recognizing depression to be a real health problem, there still exists tremendous stereotypes and stigma that surround psychological conditions. Surveys reveal that a significant percentage of the population – including those who themselves are struggling psychologically – view mood issues as being a sign of personal weakness or reflecting a personality flaw. There also exists rampant assumptions that people can easily “talk themselves” out of depression if they wish. Unfortunately, the average person lacks a real understanding of the depths of depression and the impact that it can have on important areas of a person’s life, such as their family or job.

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020, depression will be a leading cause of disability in the world, second only to heart disease. Statistics indicate that – very conservatively – 1 in 5 Canadian adults will suffer from a psychological health condition (clinical depression or anxiety) at some point in their lives. Other statistics indicate that this is a gross underestimate and that the figure is closer to 1 in 2 adults. Regardless of the specific numbers, there is no denying the significant impact depression is having on our society.

Like most physical health conditions, depression is the result of a complex interplay of myriad factors, including: genetics, environmental factors, early childhood experiences, personality, behavioural habits or coping strategies, and life events. It is not a sign of weakness, and effective treatments exist.

For people with severe depression, evidence-based treatments often include a combination of psychological treatment (cognitive-behavioural or interpersonal therapy) and medications. I would strongly encourage you to seek treatment. Not only are you dealing with pressures that can lead to or exacerbate depression (financial stress, your daughter’s health problems, divorce), but your children need you to be well. If it continues untreated, you could get to the point where you are unable to provide them with the support they need.

Ask yourself one question: What did you say to your daughter when she revealed she needed help for depression? I ask this, as you were likely much more gentle and non-judgmental toward her than you are on yourself. Speak to your family doctor, or contact your provincial psychological association for a referral to a registered psychologist. This will be the first step in getting your life back on track.

Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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