Can depression spread to family?

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Question from Gothgrrl: Can family members get depressed too? I'm so scared for my mom, and I don't know what to do.
Answers - Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. Family members can become depressed over the situation. However, the effect is usually much greater on the patient. And families are a lot stronger than we give them credit for. Patients often worry about their mothers, and how difficult it can be for them to deal with this situation. However, I have found that mothers of all ages are able to cope with the situation and be very supportive of their daughters.

It's important to keep the lines of communication open. Keeping secrets in order to protect family members is often burdensome for the patient and creates more stress and even lack of trust with the family. An open dialogue that permits everybody to have feelings is generally more helpful. Also, family members tend to recover more quickly than patients. When treatment is over, patients often have emotional issues for a year to a year and a half afterwards. It's been my experience that the families recover almost immediately.
Diane Thompson One of the things I worry about is that patients sometimes keep secrets or end up acting like "cheerleaders" for their families. Sometimes being overly cheerful and "cheerleading" can be exhausting, and the family would really prefer to help the patient. Family members often feel helpless, but patients can make them feel better by allowing them to be involved and to help. For example, doing laundry or cooking meals can be important ways for family members to help the patient and help her family as they deal with the cancer.
Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. A family that has had difficulty coping with stressful situations in the past may find it especially difficult to cope with a breast cancer diagnosis. Working with your doctors and your social worker in the early stages of diagnosis and treatment can help address some of the patterns that families fall into. Doctors often like to treat the whole person, and the whole person comes along with her family. You don't need to be alone in speaking with your mom or other family members about your diagnosis and treatment.
Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. Including family members in the treatment process is often helpful. We frequently encourage patients to bring family members, including children, to the treatment center so they can feel comfortable about the surroundings in which their relative is being treated. I also think family members feel more comfortable when they know the physician who is taking care of their relative. It has certainly made many of the children feel better about what is happening in the home.
Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. It takes away the mystery.
Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. What children imagine is always worse than the truth.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Overcoming Depression featured Rosalind Kleban, M.S.W., Diane S. Thompson, M.D., and Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. answering your questions about medication and lifestyle changes that can ease depression along with to put hope, fun, and pleasure back into your life during and after breast cancer treatment.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in March 2003.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

A production of LiveWorld, Inc.
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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