As one of the most common mental illnesses, there are more than 300 million people who suffer from depression worldwide. Approximately 16 million of those people are in the United States. Unfortunately, depression affects more than the millions who are diagnosed. Depression impacts friends, family members, and loved ones of the person who is suffering, as well. If you are living with a depressed partner, you aren’t alone. While you cannot cure their illness, the following seven ways will help you help them.
1. Learn about depression
Mental illnesses have the most power when there’s no knowledge surrounding them; by seeking to understand depression, you begin to rob it of its power. A significant amount of clinical research has been conducted about depression. There are many articles, books, and professional resources that will provide you with insight into this illness. The internet is your friend but be smart about how you use it. For instance, don’t get stuck in a warp of scary and negative stories. Try sticking only to scholarly articles that are proven and fact-checked, and books and articles recommended by sources you trust.
2. Understand that depression isn’t just sadness
Many people who don’t suffer from depression claim they can relate because they, too, “have experienced sadness or low mood.” While it may be well-intentioned to claim that you’ve “been there,” this minimizes the struggle of the person with depression. Depression is more than just feeling down and out; it’s prolonged feelings of extremely low mood. Depending on the severity, depression symptoms could mean feeling unmotivated or unable to get out of bed in the morning, no interest in attending to personal hygiene, and a lack of appetite or overeating. There is no enjoyment in the activities and experiences that the depressed person previously loved to do. There may also be physical pain associated with depression. Sometimes a depressed partner may even lose relationships with friends and family. They may even lose their job.
3. Encourage them to seek help
Once you’ve picked up on your partner’s depression warning signs, it’s important that they receive proper help. For various reasons, your partner may be resistant to this, so it’s crucial that you provide them with encouragement. Support your depressed partner by doing research on local therapists or psychiatrists. Provide them with the benefits of getting help. Offer to schedule their appointment, sit in their first meeting with the therapist or psychiatrist, or drive them to the appointment and sit in the waiting room with them. Do whatever you can to encourage them to seek help and support them during the process of treatment.
4. Remind them that depression isn’t shameful
Mental health conditions are just as valid as physical ones, regardless of the negative stigma surrounding them. Let your partner know that their illness is nothing to be embarrassed by or ashamed about. Just like you wouldn’t judge someone for going to the doctor for a broken leg, don’t judge someone for going to the doctor for a mental health issue either. It’s important that you practice what you preach. Treat your partner as you normally would; don’t make them feel different or less than because they are depressed.
5. Encourage them to talk about it
Let your loved one know that you are a supportive and safe person and that they can talk to you about anything. You might be met with resistance, so don’t be surprised if your partner doesn’t want to talk to you about their depression right away. All you can do is encourage them to talk to you when they’re ready. When they do confide in you, be prepared to listen. While you’ve done your own research, remember that the experience of depression can look differently from person to person. Don’t automatically assume that what you’ve read always pertains them.
6. Be physically present
Depression feeds off isolation – it tells people to isolate and then it gets worse when they do. You don’t need to put your life on hold or spend every waking moment with your partner but try to be physically present when you can. Suggest outings to do the things they once loved, even if it’s as small as leaving the house to get coffee, run a quick errand, or sit outside in the sun.
7. Get help for yourself
You cannot help another person unless you’ve helped yourself first. You might be focused on your partner’s problem, but it’s important that you’re taken care of emotionally, as well. Look into scheduling a therapy appointment for yourself so that you’re well-equipped to handle the situation.
It’s important to remember that you are NOT the cause of your partner’s depression, and while there are many things you can do to help them along the way, you can’t “cure” them. Encourage your depressed partner to get professional help so that they can start feeling like themselves again.
Are you, or your spouse or partner, struggling with depression? Is it impacting your relationships? Contact Janie McMahan, MA, LMFT for support and help to navigate this time in your relationship. Call Janie at 512-362-8050 today for scheduling.