Caring for the sufferer: An extract from Wyn Bramley’s new title ‘Understanding the Depressions’

How much should the main carer discuss with the poorly individual how they are going to realte to each other until things are back to normal?  What rights, if any, does the carer have to share their reaction to having the carer role thrust upon them?  What’s the wisest counsel for carers to give sufferers, or should any be given at all?  There’s no simple answer to these questions, no rule book.  My own view is: when in doubt, ask.    Ask the sufferer what they need and want, and they say if and when you can provide it.  And if not, why not.  They may have lost hope for the time being, but they still have their reason, intelligence and conscience.  Few people enjoy being treated like a helpless child, even if in a Depressions they often feel like one.  Depressed people still have a functioning brain.

As the darkness starts to lift, perhaps the roles of carer and cared-for can be reviewed.  Both parties might derive much comfort and satisfaction from being able to consult, even squabble over things or do deals with each other, designed to regulate the degree and intensity of the caring now recovery has appeared on the horizon.  For example, the carer might say: “I’ll make your favourite curry if you get a haircut.”  The suffering one might offer: “I’ll take a turn around the common if you let me sleep until lunch tomorrow without bothering me.”

Though they may be unaware of it, and without even doing anything, the prime carer has a critical psychological role throughout the course of the sufferer’s Depression.  Whether young or old, for an adult to be weakened by absence of hope, the experience of being incapacitated and having to be cared for raps loudly on the door of the vulnerable person’s memory store.  Actual memories may or may not return, but low mood originally occasioned by those stored away events – feelings perhaps of neglect, abandonment, loneliness, rejection – will certainly be brought into the present should the carer’s treatment be in any way similar to that of earlier significant carers, thus reinforcing sadness and lack of hope.  Similarly, sensitive and loving care somewhat bars the way to old ghosts.


Understanding the Depressions: A Companion for Sufferers, Relatives and Counsellors is available to buy now from the Free Association Books website

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