I am in my 30s and married with two young children. Since adolescence I have had periods of depression and of feeling suicidal.

Throughout these times I’ve remained relatively functional – studied, worked in a very stressful job, and looked after myself. However, I always have this sense of just not knowing how to be happy. I’ve been on antidepressants several times and I see a therapist.

I always loved children but was unsure about having my own because of my issues. We did decide to have children, in a period when I felt good. I found having my first child amazing and joyful, but also incredibly emotionally challenging. I had very little sleep and felt my child was unfillable and would take from me until there was nothing left. I realised, of course, that they were a baby and not deliberately doing anything. The sleep deprivation prompted another episode of depression and I went on more antidepressants, but they left me feeling numb and caused more problems than they were solving. Hence I’m keen not to go back on medication if possible.

It also stirred up other things for me to do with my childhood – my dad would withdraw from the family in his bouts of depression, and my mum possibly overshared her own feelings.

Since my second child, my marriage of 20 years has also been rocky. My mental health has been very bad again and I have been on antidepressants. My doctor thinks I may have bipolar 2, which resonates with me as I do find my moods quite unstable. I find it hard to know what I really think, or what my gut is telling me.

I feel really quite hopeless that my depression will ever be “cured”. I’m sure my emotional problems are affecting every aspect of my parenting, and I have no clue how to create emotionally literate adults with a capacity for joy and self-expression, as I feel I have none of those things and nothing to offer.

Like all mothers who write to me worried about adversely affecting their children by “passing something on”, your thoughtfulness and awareness is what will make things different.

However, it’s obvious you are struggling. The cadence of your longer letter was you saying how you really feel but then backtracking. I have a hunch you’ve had a lifetime of reasoning away your feelings. This may be momentarily anaesthetising but is ultimately damaging. Do you still feel suicidal and have you discussed this with your GP or therapist?

I went to the psychoanalyst and psychologist Dr Stephen Blumenthal and we discussed your letter at length. Having a depressed father who withdrew and a mother who overshared will have had an impact – especially if you have a sensitive, empathic character. No wonder having a child you described as “un-fillable” (the most important word, I felt, in your whole letter) triggered something in you.

Without wanting to diminish the burden you obviously carry, can we look at what you have achieved, and continue to achieve? “Despite symptoms of mental health issues,” said Dr Blumenthal, “you’ve managed to work, have a family and not let your difficulties be an obstacle.”

I really wanted to know how much help your husband offers. Even in your longer letter there was minimal mention of him. He should carry half the weight – emotional and practical – of being a parent. It’s not all down to you.

Dr Blumenthal identified what seemed to be a “deeply punishing tyrannical inner critic who tells you that nothing you do is enough. This might make you good at your work [which is very analytical], but it comes at a terrible price.”

Dr Blumenthal and I discussed how we often see the sides of people who can’t cope but appear to: “Behind the mask that people wear, it’s surprising how much is hidden.” Many people struggle: you are not alone.

We wanted you to go back to your GP and insist on being referred to a psychiatrist who could work with you, either through the NHS or privately. You need proper psychiatric management (and an actual diagnosis, not just a guess at what you have); you shouldn’t have to go back on antidepressants if you don’t want to. A good psychiatrist will work with you on this. “Therapy is very important,” says Dr Blumenthal, “but it needs to be underpinned by having your care properly managed by a specialist.”

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 988, chat on 988lifeline.org, or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

Every week, Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

Annalisa’s podcast discussing suicide is available here.

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