Understandably, when we consider depression as a social issue, most of our attention goes to the people who are depressed. After all, these are the people who are suffering with symptoms, who might be suicidal, or can't work, love, or go to school.
By comparison, people who care for people who suffer from depression--the caregivers--go unnoticed.
The predicament of caregivers is profound. Not only is it taxing to be around a seriously depressed person, a conspiracy of silence keeps caregivers severely isolated.
One silencer is the depressed person who wants their condition kept private. Caregivers cannot be candid to friends and family without crossing the depressed person, and risking his or her wrath.
The second silencer is our society. Caregivers perceive (accurately) that people in their social network don't want to hear about depression. They fear embarrassing conversations; they fear the loss of friends; they fear becoming the subject of gossip and whisper. Depression is just not a problem that leads others to bring over casseroles.
The third silencer is caregivers themselves. They desperately want to keep up the appearance that everything is "ok." They don't want others to worry. They don't want others to think less of the depressed person, which reflects, of course that caregivers often have their own shame about depression. So they don't talk about it.
Consequently, the caregiver ends up alone, exhausted, and trapped in the depressed person's nightmare.
I have seen the caregiver's dilemma first hand. I am not only a researcher who studies depression; I have suffered from depression. I plunged into severe depression twenty years ago at about the same time that my high school sweetheart, Laura (shown in the video below), came back into my life. We were both confused about what was happening to me. She did not want to reveal the severity of my depression to people in our social network, and I pressured her to keep it secret. This conspiracy of silence went on for a number of years, through our engagement, wedding, and the birth of our child.
Laura's story exemplifies the caregiver's dilemma.
Although I have been clinically well for a long time, little has changed in twenty years; the painful conspiracy of silence that envelops depressed people and their caregivers continues. To reduce the awful isolation of caregivers, we need to open up our national conversation about depression.