Mental illness and its effect on supporters

Disclaimer: The names in this article have been changed to protect the anonymity of the sources.

I sit down in a chair and take the coffee that Lucas kindly made for me. As I turn my head to the left I see a picture of a happy, smiling couple; Lucas is dressed up in a suit while his girlfriend Sarah is wearing a beautiful long formal dress. I point to the picture and can’t help but smile because of how content they look; I ask Lucas when the photo was taken.

“That was my prom a couple years ago.”

I take a sip of my coffee and nervously twist my hands together. Lucas and I are close but considering how depression and mental illness is still such a taboo topic I can’t help but feel a bit nervous, I don’t wish to make him uncomfortable. Mental illness doesn’t just directly affect the person with the illness, but also the people in their lives such as family members and the close friends who support them.

“So, let’s start with an easy question, how long have you and Sarah been dating?”

“Just over three years,” he smiles in disbelief, as if bewildered that it’s been that long already.

“Wow that’s a long time! Did you know before you started dating she was clinically depressed?”

“When we first started dating I had no idea. I found out a couple months into the relationship. She called me one night because she was upset about something. I hopped into my mom’s car and rushed over to her place,” he says. “After calming her down we sat and she told me about her depression. I held her hand and told her this wouldn’t change anything and we would work through it. “

“Was your relationship different after you found out?”

“No. Sometimes things would get hard, but pushing through the hard times just made our relationship stronger,” he says.

“Most people suffering from depression have triggers, were you aware of hers?”

“I was really new to depression in general. Like most people, I was ignorant,” Lucas admits. “I didn’t understand what depression really meant, I just thought it meant some people get sad more than others.”

“What happens when a trigger occurs, how does it affect your relationship?”

“When a trigger occurs it causes her to be upset, quite, sad, or really down about something. Unlike most people who get upset, depression doesn’t necessarily happen for one cause or reason usually it just happens out of the blue from something you can’t control.” But Lucas does feel, “It doesn’t really affect our relationship negatively, we just have to sit down and I try to calm her down and cheer up the best I can. Sometimes I wish I could do more, but all I can do is try and put a smile on her face.”

“Would you say you’re one of her main supporters?”

“I believe so, she also has a great support team including friends, my family, and her family,” he explains.

“Does that affect your life or your mental health at all?”

“It affects my life because it is something that we go through together. I don’t think it really affects my mental health but it has really opened my eyes to what mental health and mental illness really means. There are so many people that don’t understand mental illness – which isn’t their fault, there is nowhere near enough education and awareness of this problem.” Lucas drums his fingers on the desk and pauses thoughtfully, “I am thankful that this has given me the opportunity to understand what other people go through, and in some small way help those people.”

I pause before asking the next question I have, afraid to upset him or push on the boundaries that both of them would be comfortable with.

“Has she ever been suicidal?”

He however, doesn’t pause. Merely takes a sip of his coffee and looks towards the picture of them. His smile dims a bit as he speaks.

“There was a time when the depression got to that level. We would push through it together through me calming her and supporting her, we also used the support resources available to us such as Kids Help Phone. This was a problem early into her diagnosis of depression,” Lucas recalls. “I’m very proud of where she has come to where she is now; she can manage her depression without it getting to a suicidal point.”

“Did you at any point consider ending the relationship because of her illness?”

“Never. I am committed to her and love her. If it’s something real why would I not work hard at being together? It’s not always easy, but looking back at where we were two years ago to where we are now it just proves that it was worth fighting for,” he says.

“In your opinion, what is the best way to manage depression after being a witness to the struggles people face?”

“Surround yourself with a good support network. The people in your life that love and care for you are the greatest assets to help battle depression. Not only have that but the use of outlets really helped. My girlfriend uses art as her creative outlet. It helps her calm down and battle depression. It doesn’t have to be art it can be reading, exercising, and working anything that you seek enjoyment out of that you can use will help you cope with depression,” Lucas explains.

“Any advice for someone in similar shoes as you?”

“Everyone is different so this is a pretty hard question to answer,” Lucas ponders. “My best advice would be don’t let something like depression scare you. It’s not your fault, but that person who is going through depression depends on you to be their support through the good times and the bad.”

“And how is your relationship today?”

“Never better. I’ve been approached by numerous people even many of my guy friends who say that they look up to our relationship and strive to have what we have together. It’s a special feeling being role models to others and just makes our time together even more special,” he says.

I thank Lucas for his time and being so honest with what I considered to be some difficult questions. I leave with a renewed hope for people suffering with mental illness: it’s refreshing to know that there are understanding and supportive people in the world and I only wish everyone was fortunate enough to have as good a listener as Lucas in their life.

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