Depression's Contagion: A Therapist's Perspective

Early in 2012, Dave called Cathedral Counseling Center and asked to make an appointment, saying only his family had told him to call. “I don’t know what they’re so worried about,” he said the first time we met. It wasn’t immediately apparent. Dave was in his early 50s, neatly dressed, pleasant and careful about what he said—maybe fearful, as many new clients are, that I would wonder if he were crazy.

Over time, as he came to tell me more about himself, it became clear that Dave was very depressed. For most of his life, he had struggled with feelings of hopelessness, but managed by keeping his head down, working hard and blowing off steam by drinking heavily on the weekends. But about a year ago, Dave had been laid off from work and began spiraling downward.

He described becoming more isolated, spending hours alone at home watching TV and sleeping. He withdrew from his family, often roaming the house at night when his wife and teenage sons were sleeping. This was his second marriage and Dave was so fearful of losing his family, he tried to protect them from his misery by staying away. His wife resented his distance. Not understanding how troubled Dave was, she criticized him for not looking for work more aggressively. Dave's sons, formerly close to their father, felt rejected by him and upset with their mother, and they began to get in trouble.

Eventually, Dave admitted that he had been thinking of suicide. He felt hopeless, that he would never work again and that he would not be able to take care of his family. He told me he was lost and could see no way out.

That was when our work really began. He agreed to try and untangle the knots of his history that were still affecting him, and to see a physician. Despite his shame, Dave consented to a trial of medication and began to feel more energetic and sleep better. In therapy, we talked about how he had to grow up quickly in his own chaotic family and never learned how to understand and talk about his internal world. He began to bring stories from our work home to his wife, and they drew closer together.

While he has not yet found a job, Dave has been helping friends and family with his technical skills and has begun to reconnect with old friends who may help him get back to work. We still have work to do, but Dave has not thought of suicide in months and is cautiously optimistic about the future. I am hopeful for him and grateful for his trust.


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