Blurred lines of depression and mental health conditions

Hi all

I just wondered if anyone could advise or has experience of their own around when behaviour is caused by a mental health condition. I’ve posted previously about how my husband has been suffering from depression for most of this year and we’ve experienced many marital and relationship problems as a result of it.

Because my husband hasn’t always suffered from depression I am aware of the man he is when he isn’t unwell. Therefore when he has gotten angry at me (usually when I try to get him to talk or ask him too many questions) and says / shouts horrible things at me I tell myself it’s not him, it’s his illness, when he gets better we can pick up again when he is himself again.

Is that the fair, kind thing to do or am I being naive to believe the anger, resentment and general removal of himself from the part of his life I exist in to be all down to his depression? He is only this way with me so a few people say it’s because he’s close to me that he takes it out on me, I could agree with that in the beginning but after over 6 months it gets harder and harder to blame the illness and not take it really personally.

I’m not looking for solutions but am interested in other people’s experiences, maybe even if there is someone who has seen their partner get better and work through that bad nasty stuff.

Hi Emma
In my experience the “working through the bad stuff” can work if done through good, professional counselling. I have been depressed a few times, normally when too much bad stuff is happening in my life at once and it morphs into depression or stress. Now I know to find some form of “talking therapy” sooner rather then let it fester and grow.

There’s a good list of all types of mental illness, including depression on the Mind website, and crucially, under the carers heading it suggests ways of responding to each

It is common, in fact imho, it’s the worst aspect of MH that the sufferers do tend to take it out on their nearest and dearest, and often blame them too, quite unfairly.
Any MH carer needs a coat of armour and a strong backbone not to end up the whipping boy (or girl) and it is difficult to balance that while still being supportive and loving

Sometimes when someone is deeply depressed almost anything can get too much for them and they withdraw or attack. At those times you have to back off and only slowly slowly introduce the topic again. It’s frustrating slow. Better to say “I’m here for you when you are ready” than to push and question.

That’s not say you cant be clear about your needs and your limits, you are still a person in your own right.

Is hubby taking his medication? Attending appointments? having counselling?

Hi Emma
I’d be interested to hear what others have to say about this. My experience for over 17 years was in putting up with my (now ex-) husbands volatile moodswings, primarily because of concealed depression. He blamed me for all the unhappiness in the house, became angry when I wouldn’t side with him on metering out unjust punishment on our three boys; and was generally just putting his head in the sand or distracting himself with bringing home “bargains” and showed increasing signs of becoming a hoarder. Hoarding is a form of OCD, which is classified as a MH issue.

The thing is, it is SO difficult when you are in the midst of the storm, to assess whether you are helping someone, or just enabling them to continue with their (potentially abusive) behaviour. I endured years of put-downs and being derided. After I finally divorced him, it emerged that our middle son, who is now 23, has schizophrenia, and that similar serious MH issues run in my ex- side of the family. I now care fulltime for my son, as he lives with me.

It is very very challenging to be a partner to someone who is struggling with depression. If your husband is willing to try all the available resources for his treatment, meds, CBT, exercise etc., then this allows you to “let go” a little bit of trying to “fix him”.

Best of luck. Let us know how you get on. xx

Thanks both for your replies.

It’s so difficult, I think I’ve had every reaction possible to my husband’s illness - concern, care, resentment, anger, frustration, fear the list goes on. Our marriage just seemed to disintegrate around us as a result of the depression and erratic behaviour and my failure to keep everything else going (household, look after our son, work full time) but not feeling able to call out anything negative in case it made my husband worse. Then often I would not be able to take any more so start to ask questions for my own emotional security and sure enough that will make him defensive and angry and that then causes me to retreat back for a time before the nasty cycle just repeats itself again.

He has been taking his medication (save for one awful 48 hour period where he didn’t and we thought we’d lost him) and I’ve been trying to support him getting some counselling but that’s taken a lot longer than I would have hoped not helped by the fact he’s asked to swap counsellors twice (which I get because it won’t work if he isn’t 100% comfortable) so where as I am about to have my fifth session (we made enquiries for counsellors the same week) he still hasn’t gotten past an initial introductory one and is back to the service my workplace provides finding him someone different. I realise this is not his fault but when you’ve been the target of someone’s frustrations and anger for so long it’s hard to not have some selfish reasons for why you just want to see any sort of improvement in them.

To keep going I tell myself it is just his illness (it helps that we had so long together where he wasn’t ill so I know the other side to him) and I remind myself of our marriage vows in sickness and in health but I have days and weeks (like this one) where it’s so much to put in when you get so little back. Then I feel guilty because it’s such a selfish outlook to have but how much do you put yourself at risk of getting ill yourself from all of the stress?

Hi Emma
The one thing I have learned from supporting:
A) my young adult son through depression and anxiety over last 4-6 years
b) a relative on the ASD spectrumwith other MH too, over 30 years
C) an alcoholic friend for 20 years until her suicide
Is that the carer/supporter has to look after themselves first and foremost, else it is easy to be dragged in/fall in and start suffering too. And by suffering I mean stress, worry, guilt , anger, sadness, frustration to unmanageable levels.

While it feels easy and natural to step in and try to fix the person, or their environment, I have found that any recovery has to come from the person themselves, and that recovery needs some outside professional help too

. In A) my son he benefited best from private, professional counselling . The first counsellor was chosen by me (recommended by a friend) and he never really engaged with her. Over 18 months later when he was at a really really low point he finally agreed to see someone else. This time I showed him a list of local ones, he picked 2 or 3 to meet to see who he got on with. Luckily the first one was ok and he saw her for over a year. He seemed to take things better from her than from me.
b) my relative does not relate to talking therapies at all. His mind really does work in a different way. He is now in a specialist residential unit after years of the family trying to cope, but we had to admit professionals do better with him., and that it is better for the family for him to be away.
C) my friend refused all professional help, was in total denial of any problem and just drank more and more until one day her house burned down with her drunk inside it.

I say this to show that no matter how concerned I have been, how helpful, how thoughtful, how treading on egg shells, how walking a tightrope, essentially at the end of the day an adult caree needs to be responsible for their own well being and that professional help is needed.

A carer needs to be strong and ready for a long, Long haul so:
Develop strong self-worth - counselling, mindfulness, assertiveness
Get support for you - friends, family, groups, forums
Stay fit and well, physically and mentally

I learned that I had to be assertive and not allow things to impact my life too much, so I had to say when I was being hurt, when things affected me and when things were not acceptable behaviour. Indeed it was quite like bringing up a young child, setting limits, and sticking to them, discouraging bad behaviours and praising the good.
Imho, a lot of MH/depression is based in low self esteem, so praise, praise and more praise, encouraging of things they can do, allowing more and more responsibility and offering support, but only giving it when asked for. Sometimes i felt i had suggested things over and over but they were only taken up when caree was ready. For example had suggested going to gym many times, but it was only taken up once he was comfortable going out alone. I hadn’t appreciated how hard it was for him to be out alone initially.
He also got in a bit of a panic (which never showed visually) if too many options offered at once and needed much more time to process information and thoughts when the depression was at its deepest.

So essentially, backing off and looking after myself, and therefore ‘modelling’ healthy behavoiours while continually praising and offering support “what do you need” rather than “go for a run and you’ll feel better”
I had counselling too, one didn’t do much , the last was different and expensive and seemed to take all the guilt away.
This forum was invaluable for learning and not being alone, and for venting

I didn’t have to cope with aggression or anger much, but if there signs best to back off and change track. Walk away until they are calmer and more receptive.
personally i would not accept any phyiscal violence to myself or anyone else. That’s a definite line not to cross.

This is only my own experience, I have no idea if any of it helps you, or anyone else. It seems to be working for my boy, helps with the feelings of guilt and sadness over my relative and helps me understand why I, and everyone else , was kna hiding to nothing with my friend.
There is little or no help or support out there for carers of MH and its sad and frustrating we each have to find our own way

I hope this helps you a little, you are important and a person of worth. Don’t forget that, ever


Wow Mrs A!!
That’s a wonderful post.
I know my circumstances are very different, but to occasionally put myself 1st is beneficial to me and my family. To hubby too,as I can visit with a smile etc and cope to a point. I still get the tummy knot when I walk in. With dementia, as it deteriorates, it’s really the loved ones who suffer the most, so I keep being told.
You should write a book!

It’s very hard (impossible?) to ‘judge correctly’ when it comes to someone with mental illness.

I think the most useful ‘metric’ to use is whether they are ‘making an effort’. If they are, then you cut them slack.

It doesn’t matter if the ‘effort’ is not very productive, it is the EFFORT that counts.

By analogy, we wouldn’t criticise someone who had a broken leg for ‘not making an effort to run’ (!) - we’d praise them for ‘making an effort to limp slowly’.

EFFORT is the true measure to my mind, not ‘results’. (Though hopefully effort DOES lead to results, however gradually).

But, yes, sometimes we all get tired from ‘making an effort’, so some ‘down time’ is also allowed!!!

There is a difference - though hard to discern as an ‘outsider’ - between being ‘overwhelmed’ by their MH problems and ‘wallowing’ in them. Hard to call it though! (Which is why I focus on ‘effort’ as the most useful and fair metric)

Thanks for the further replies. Thankfully I have a great counsellor who is also helping me through this.

I’m going to take on board the note about effort, as my husband is making an effort in some areas (takes his meds, started the gym, speaks to lots of people about his condition (just not me!) so I cannot criticise him there.

Getting him some counselling has been a while other battle but I’ve done what I can to give him extra channels to the NHS route and it’s in his control to take that further. In the meantime my counsellor has told me I need to focus on my own self care so I’m looking at simple ways I can do that either with a toddler in tow or while he sleeps in the evening.

Thanks again all I get so much out of advice received here, makes the world a slightly less lonely place.

It’s good to hear that your husband IS making a visible effort - it’s important on so many counts.

It means he achieves more than he would, AND, I think, it must ‘reassure’ you that he is not just ‘collapsing’ on the nearest ‘support’ (you!) that he can find.

If we know people are truly ‘trying’ then we are far more likely to be well disposed towards them, and want to find ways of helping them.

It’s empowering, too, for the person making the effort - it shows them they are not entirely helpless in the face of adversity, that they CAN achieve ‘something’ by sheer determination and will power …and courage. For courage is most definitely required in overcoming mental illness.

I’m glad you are looking after yourself - ‘who cares for the carers?’ is a HUGE issue. If you ‘break’ you are no good to anyone, including your children, your husband and yourself!

All the best with his counselling too - such a fight to get it, as it is SO expensive for the NHS.

Can he get involved in ‘self-help’ groups at all?

Ps - it’s great he’s started going to the gym. Again, benefits on SO many levels!

It’s very ‘masculine’ so good for his self-esteem. It is ‘bonding’ with other gym users - it’s a ‘group’ so to speak (even if they don’t speak much to each other in that typical male way of NOT ‘chatting’!!!). It is improving his physical fitness (SO key to mental well being, and vice versa).

And, best of all, it is encouraging the natural release in his brain of our ‘feel good hormones’ our endorphins, thus gradually reducing his reliance on pharmaceutical ‘feel good’ chemicals.

Only slight word of warning - and it is VERY slight - if he really ‘takes’ to exercising (and I hope he does), be on the look out in case it becomes ‘obsessive’. In some folk they do become ‘addicted’ to exercise. This is partly ‘good’ as in, it’s about the ‘best’ addiction one can have for all the reasons above.

But the one ‘downside’ is that if he is prone to OCD or some such, the gym ‘rituals’ could possibly become ‘malign’ if excessive.

There is also the issue of becoming addicted to one’s own endorphins!!! But, overall, that is SO much ‘better’ than becoming addicted to pharmaceuticals, that it’s not really a major issue. Simply be on the look out.

Finally, the one thing he must NOT do is start using anabolic steroids to improve his gym performance. Some gym cultures are highly dedicated to ‘performance’ rather than ‘fitness’ - the latter is ONLY ever ‘natural’ and NEVER induced by chemicals like steroids. Steroids are simply ‘cheating’. One might as well take ‘uppers’ to do well in an exam. It’s just cheating and doesn’t count at all as ‘real’ fitness!

(And of course anabolic steroids have significant health dangers too)

PS - be aware that as and when he really gets into ‘gymming’, he will NEED to keep going. Although it isn’t an ‘addiction’ (ie, a ‘bad’ thing) he will become ‘twitchy’ if he doesn’t exercise. This is quite ‘normal’ for gym users - even I, when I’m on a ‘good run of exercising’ (ie, are regular at the gym) get twitchy if I don’t go for two days. After three days of not going I lose the twitch and have ‘slobbed’ again. But my nephew, a personal trainer, has to work out every day or he ‘twitches’…it’s presumably some kind of withdrawal from lack of enodrphins!

PSS - this is NOT to put you off! It’s to watch out for the maybe 10% ‘downside’ of working out - the advantages WAAAAAAAY outweigh ANY ‘issues’ such as twitchiness etc.

Hi Emma
I’m just wondering if he is up to doing something with the toddler that may tick several boxes. Here , for example, a Saturday morning rugby tots class is mainly attended with the Dads, which would get him out and socialising, and a bit of exercise, and give you some regular time off too? Or swimming ,or …,?

Also, any kind of volunteering would help him too, takes the mind off self wallowing. My boy was able to go help his Nan, even when he couldn’t summon the will to go out for any other reason. (Nan and I used to make up tasks for him to do :blush: )

Your counsellor is quite right about caring for you. Having fun and a laugh with your toddler would count as time away. Do you manage to get to any toddler groups so theres soem socialisong for you too?
For the evening’s there are some really good mindfulness apps about which can 'take you away 'even in you are still at home. I use one called Insight Timer

You will get through this, and so will he


"Because my husband hasn’t always suffered from depression

Emma, do you, or he, or anyone, have any idea WHY he has been hit with depression this year? Are there external circumstances which would account for it completely? or, perhaps, external circumstances that have acted as a ‘trigger’ or ‘release’ for long-held mental and emotional problems that have been ‘suppressed’ till now?

How much do you know about his past - especially his childhood and relations with parents? Do you think there is ‘bad stuff lurking’ etc etc, and if so, what?

What has counselling thrown up by way of explanation and analysis so far?

How is he coping with fatherhood? Becoming a parent can trigger all sorts of ‘bad stuff’ coming out from one’s own childhood. Such as fears one will be as rubbish a parent as one’s own was perhaps? Or just the whole responsibility of it all?

We know that Post Natal Depression can hit women like a hammer - sometimes ‘emotional’ in cause, sometimes by the massive swing in hormones (or both!). But maybe it can impact dads as well???

It would surely be unlikely that your husband can radically improve or ‘heal’ hopefully, without understanding WHY depression has hit in the first place.

(And of course, sigh, as we know, men are not exactly famous for their ability to ‘open up emotionally’!!! ‘Denial of Trauma’ is all too common for the male psyche in our ‘repressive’ society)

PS - I completely agree with Mr’s A’s recommendation about volunteering.

The three ‘Self-help’ pillars for Depression are:

  • exercise
  • helping others

(Thankfulness is key, as we HAVE to be able to realise what is GOOD about our lives - and for any of us living in the western world that is HUUUUUUGGGGEEEEE…ie, no one is dropping bombs on us for a start!)

It would be lovely if he could find something to do with our son but unfortunately it’s not something he will do. In fact my son coming along is what I believe has been a trigger for his mental health problems, with anxiety coming in last year and depression following it this year.

I don’t think his depression is a result of his own childhood, he has wonderful parents and had a great upbringing. His mum had been really ill this year although her prognosis was excellent so that’s really thrown him too. He’s almost gone into some form of denial about what his life is now - he stays out drinking most nights and continues drinking when he gets in.

He also hates the routine and monotony of family life and gets agitated if he has no plans to go out at the weekend. If he does stay in he will stay upstairs in his room playing on his pc. It’s actually like having a teenager rather than a fully grown man, some sort of regression maybe.

Very difficult to balance getting him better with how much I can cope with running the family and household whilst being at work on my own but we’ve survived this far!

Oh Emma
It is sounding more and more as though he’s one of those chaps who just cannot acknowledge, let alone voice, what is going in inside. And I am afraid you’ve hit the nail in the head that the undeniable arrival of your lovely boy couple with the realisation that his Mum is not immortal and is ageing and maybe needing his care in the future, is just too much for him. His behaviours are like Peter Pan wanting to stay young and carefree, a teenager, as you say.

The only things that will help him through it is antidepressants and having some professional help him understand his thoughts and feelings.
Other chaps in similar situations would simply ignore everything and head off with the next woman that would take them :unamused: , so in a way it’s good he’s still around, but how long are you prepared to go on? How much toll is it taking on you , and your boy?
I have a male relative who seemed to hit the ‘growing up crisis’ on his 30th birthday. He had a terrible couple of years accepting he had to be an adult, which involved leaving one woman at the altar then taking up with one 10 years younger. He’s through it now, but it was messy and hurt others around .

You sound particularly levelheaded and self aware (2 excellent traits btw) and it seems such a shame that this particular chap isnt fully joining you in enjoying your son’s early years.

I’ve just re-read your other thread. Re-read what you wrote on 30th October

I’m glad you are having counselling to help you understand your feelings and what is right for you
NONE of this is your fault


Have you managed to have a proper conversation about him and his feelings towards his son?

Many men find babies difficult, but your son is surely becoming a little person in his own right now.
I know some men get jealous of the baby getting some of their partner’s attention when they used to have it all, but it’s HIS child that HE made, and your love for HIS child is surely good.
Do you ever go on walks together as a family? Or do anything as a family at all?
If he is not prepared even to do that, surely you are “flogging a dead horse”?

Hmm, from your post, two words spring to mind now@

MAN and UP.

Sorry, this is just nonsense, his behaviour now! I’m trying to 'make allowances - his fear that his mother will die, his realisation that his ‘carefree life’ is over now that he has to knuckle down and be a dad and earn a living etc etc, but it’s a bit hard to summon up much sympathy really.

I could ask ‘did he actually want a baby when you got pregnant’? I could ask if his parents have always indulged him? Have you always indulged him?

But really, he’s just coming across as a ‘kidult’ - ‘not ready’ to face the realities of life (and death). He sounds, frankly, immature.

And with all this ‘depression’ simply hopelessly self-indulgent and self-pitying.

Do you think he ‘settled down’ too young (not sure how old either of you are)?

Of course the ‘daily grind’ of earning a living, the dreadful ‘is this all there is to my life?’ realisation dawning, and yes, of course having a baby is ‘hard work’ (and sleepless too)…but that’s why EITHE you have to ‘sow your wild oats’ BEFORE you marry and start a family…or, you save it for the empty-nesting years that will arrive!!!

All that said, OK, so he’s fed up with the boring constraints of his tedious limited life (never mind that no one is bombing him and he’s not starving to death in the third world or being crushed in earthquakes etc etc)…can you sit down with him and work out how he (AND YOU!) can get ‘SOME’ of the ‘exciting life’ he clearly wants to have (without the boring stuff about earning a living and child care)?

ARE there ‘other ways for you two to live’? I’ve known people buy a boat and sail around the world, etc etc etc. Or save up all year and have ‘blow out holidays’ in the Andes, or whatever whatever.

But, to be blunt, he seems to be suffering from First World Self Pity - not really facing up to the fact that for most of the world’s population life IS ‘nasty brutish and short’ and that ANYONE living in the UK is really, really, really lucky (which is why SO many of the wretched of the earth are desperate to get here, sigh).

Yes the pity party is where I generally have to grit my teeth in terms of showing sympathy. I know life (particularly when you have a young child) is a bit boring at times but that’s life and actually to give you insight into my husbands life a bit more -

  1. He does his dream job for a living - runs his own business running quizzes for pubs and corporate events, something I supported him in from the ground up by paying the bills whilst he built up a viable income.

  2. There have of course been weekends where all that is on offer is a takeaway and a film (and a lot of the time that suits me!) but in this year alone my husband has been to see The Foo Fighters, Chemical Brothers, Lauren Hill, The Prodigy, League of Gentleman as well as had various trips up to York to see his coworkers (and is up there today actually for an xmas get together) He also gets first dibs if he wants to go and see friends for the evening, goes to the cinema, I could go on

  3. In the last year (and I’m being generous there as it’s likely longer) my husband has got up with my son in the morning three times, once because I was going to Scotland for work, once so I could go to a hen party and another to go to the actual wedding and needed to leave early as I was a bridesmaid. And even then I nearly didn’t go to the hen party as I was worried a tantrum from my son might trigger anxiety in my husband. He stopped changing nappies about six months ago and more recently stopped taking my son for a bath or dressing him for bed, he just appears at the door to say night once it’s all done.

  4. He does next to nothing around the house, no cleaning, doesn’t cook, just about puts the bin out once a week so there is no real expectation of him there. I pay 80% of the bills so his money is pretty much his own although if we need anything he WILL always pay for the extras needed but only if asked.

Since his anxiety returned and his depression kicked in, it’s got a point where I can’t even point out the imbalance there is in our relationship as it often triggers his anger (verbal not physical) or makes him retreat back to under the covers. I do feel bad that he is poorly but it’s hard to see what more we can do to give him the space to work through it. He is hesitant to get going on counselling, he’s rejected two and I’ve been waiting two weeks for him to call up and arrange a new one - I got us 6 free sessions through my work but he doesn’t seem to want to take it up.

He has been indulged a lot of his life and I include myself in that, our baby was planned and I asked again and again if he was ready because it meant settling down and was told yes he had gotten being out and drinking 4/5 times a week out of his system. I believed him - we are both 36 now (35 when our son was born) so it seemed a reasonable age to expect someone to settle down a bit. He does have another child who he had when he WAS very young (18) but again he had a lot of support in bringing her up, his parents helped a lot so I wouldn’t say he missed out from there either, particularly as he and the mother split up when she was still a baby, sounds harsh but I can understand more and more why.

Sorry I have gone into full on rant mode - some of the above (cleaning, money) falls in the category of I knew who I married but it’s also interesting to compare my husband’s perception of how monotonous and dull his life is compared to the reality and actually how priveleged his is. Couldn’t agree more that it’s first world problems.

I could look to hang in there for an indefinite amount of time if I got anything back from him in the way of thanks for everything we do for him but as with a lot of mental health issues there is no gratitude, no thanks just a huge sense of entitlement. I’m petrified to leave him though as I’m worried he might slip even further if he was left on his own.

And now I’ll feel terrible for moaning because at the end of the day he is ill and needs support - thanks for the space to rant, feel like I held my breath typing it! I don’t want to give the wrong impression, I do love my husband and I desperately want him to get better but there are also needs of his young family that he needs to step up to.

"And now I’ll feel terrible for moaning because at the end of the day he is ill and needs support "

No he isn’t, and no he doesn’t.

He’s a self-indulged, spoilt brat waste of space and my best advice to you now is to print out what you wrote, and hand it to him, and to the parents that brought him up.

His behaviour is totally disgraceful.

MAYBE he knows that deep down, and is ashamed, and that is why he’s sunk into depression.

Or more likely he’s sunk into depression as his ‘get out of all responsibility and anything I don’t feel like doing or I think is boring’ card…

In other words, being ‘depressed’ is an oh-so-convenient excuse for being a rubbish husband and a rubbish dad.

I would start making an ‘escape plan’, starting with your financial viability when you are a single mother.

You throwing in the towel on him MIGHT just be the wake up call he needs, ‘Ie, WAKE Up, GROW up and MAN up!’. Or, of course, he’ll just slump into yet more self-pity and ‘woe-is-me’ and blame you. But who cares if he does?

Just hand the print out of your post above to anyone who says you are being ‘hard’ on him.

I’m going to end just now with saying something that usually makes people want to slap me (I wanted to slap the person I heard it from, I promise you!)…it Is this@

We get the behaviour we put up with.

See, you’ll want to slap me, and it’s a normal reaction, but it is TRUE for all that it is THE most irritating thing anyone can tell you!

Time to lay it on the line for this piece of work! He really is shameful. No wonder he doesn’t like you criticising him - the truth is clearly so uncomfortable for his sense of self-pity and hard-done-by-ness that ‘shooting the messanger’ is much more convenient for him.

PS I’m not surprised he’s avoiding counselling, Any counsellor would hold that same mirror up to him!

“I’m petrified to leave him though as I’m worried he might slip even further if he was left on his own.”

You weren’t put into this world to be his nanny and comfort blanket.

His life, his responsibility. Time he faced up to that.

NOT your problem. HIS problem.