Depression didn't run in our family. It was something that happened to other, less reliable people. It was for cooks and dailies to 'have nerves', not us. If someone felt a bit down it wasn't done to show it.
So when our daughter got it - or rather when we recently realised that this was what she had, and not 'hormones' or adolescent angst or 'going through a phase' or sheer bloody-mindedness - it was a steep learning curve. One we're still coping with.
I think...I hope...that we're doing all right. We somehow avoided, by luck or instinct, coming out with the usual knee-jerk stuff; "Pull yourself together, get a grip, we all go through it, think how lucky you are". When harshly treated we've bitten back the waspish rejoinders that reflect our own inadequacies. We've enlisted the help of a private counsellor/psychotherapist (there is at least a six month waiting list for help on the NHS, even though the potential severity of outcome for depression makes knee and hip surgery seem as crucial as hopscotch). We've seen off the jejune, chauvinistic half-wit who was her employer, and we've tried to provide a lazy, stress-free summer at home, with chocolate and entertainment and riding and laughter and no need for deadlines or decisions.
The thing about depression is that it is not a matter of personal choice; it is almost beyond an individual's control. It is an internal battle of self against self. A Sisyphean struggle, where luck and life erode progress like tide on a sandcastle. Where events and people conspire to undermine. Which no one who has not experienced it can fully understand.
Depression is probably not the result of a chemical imbalance, as is often suggested, but its characteristic cycle of emotional arousal and disappointment wreaks real clinical and hormonal changes which cannot be shrugged off. Cortisol and noradrenaline levels increase; seratonin levels fall; there is a debilitating imbalance between REM and deep sleep. All the manuals warn that the worst outcome is suicide.
K tried to go it alone, with the help of meditation and yoga and shedloads of resolve. For a long time she never even told us, as she cried in her room. She was determined to avoid taking any drugs, but although the therapy helped it wasn't enough on its own, and she eventually changed her mind. The notes for the drug she has now been prescribed include a long list of potential side effects. Chillingly heading the 'likely' side effects is 'suicide'. (This is a likely side effect?)
The treatment package seems to be working. There are still bad days, but these are fewer and less extreme, and the daughter we missed is on her way back to herself and us.
In the last fifty years depression has become ten times more common. Nobody knows why, but this is too large and too fast an increase to be genetic, so it must be related to changes in society and lifestyle. (Me, I'd put the UK's intensive exam regime in general, and AS levels in particular, high on the list of suspects.) Since this has happened to us - and it doesn't just happen to the sufferers, but to their families as well - it seems almost every family we meet has some experience of depression. They've just kept quiet about it.
Whatever, if you do come across someone suffering with depression, whether friend, colleague, employer or employee, unlike them you have a choice; your response can be part of the problem or part of the solution.