Ok I’ll admit it. I’m a not-so-secret Corrie fan. Mainly I like the humour; it always seems well-scripted and well-placed among what are often frankly far-fetched and over-dramatic story-lines. Recently though The Street has been widely praised by mental health organisations for giving one its top comic characters; pub landlord and occasional Lothario, Steve MacDonald a story-line on depression.
While his apparent rapid descent into depression struck me as slightly clunky script-wise; I think the soap has done an amazing job in highlighting its symptoms; the fact that it can happen to anyone; and also the confusion that sufferers experience leading up to diagnosis, and the shame they sometimes feel after.
I have been particularly interested however, in how the TV programme’s writers have handled the impact that Steve’s depression has had on his relationship with partner, Michelle. As I write their relationship has broken down completely and they are living apart. Prior to moving out though it was clear that Michelle felt that she just could not do right for doing wrong; and no amount of trying to cheer Steve up or distraction would make any difference to his low mood. In fact, often their attempts at communication only seemed to add to Steve’s despair and feelings of inadequacy. Notably, their intimate relationship also disintegrated completely.
This story-line helpfully highlighted to me how relationships are not only impacted by the depression in one partner, but also the effect depression can have on the other partner. In extreme cases this can often manifest itself in their own form of depression. In Steve and Michelle’s case, despite being in love, their relationship broke down quickly but in many other cases relationships continue sometimes painfully for both partners for years, and in fact can then become a key factor inflaming the initial depression. In other words, depression can cause relationship distress but equally relationship distress can also become a supporting factor in depression.
Sat in the middle of this confusing and highly stressful situation, it is sometimes difficult for couples to identify what is the cause and what is the effect of depression. And in some ways working out the bidirectional nature of the problem and what came first is not all that useful to a struggling couple. Identifying how communication between partners may be supporting or aggravating depression and having a better understanding of how each partners’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours may be contributing to relationship distress can however, help depression sufferers and their partners find new strategies to be together which helps them manage depression and in some instances, ultimately alleviate it.