When the person you love suffers from depression, it’s not easy to deal with. Not only is it a struggle to maintain the relationship, you may find your own mental health affected as well.
Depression is common and, just because someone has it, doesn’t mean they can’t sustain a happy and healthy relationship. As the partner of a person with depression, understanding the illness and knowing how to respond to it means you can support the other person and simultaneously protect your own emotional wellbeing.
How to support someone with depression
The support of friends and family plays a huge role in recovering from depression, but it’s important to know how to do this in the right way.
- Encourage them to get help – You can’t force someone to get professional help but it considerably improves the chances of a full recovery. Reassure the person there’s no shame in having depression and remind them of all the benefits of talking to their GP or a counsellor. If they’re scared to go alone, offer to go with them and even join them for counselling sessions if they want you to, but don’t take offence if they’d rather go alone.
- Listen – If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, you don’t need to be. Often, just having someone who is willing to listen to their problems makes someone suffering with depression feel less alone and isolated. The more you know and understand what your partner is going through, the more likely you are to be able to successfully support them.
- Don’t be critical or judgemental – If you’ve never suffered from depression yourself, it can be difficult to understand why the person can’t just ‘snap out of it’. Sadly, that’s not how depression works so try not to blame the person or put too much pressure on them to get better straight away. What they really need is someone who can be supportive and understanding.
- Encourage them to do ‘normal’ things – If you take on all responsibilities, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, or are sympathetic when the person doesn’t want to go to work or socialise, you may be helping your partner fall into a trap and enabling their depression. Doing ‘normal’ things can aid recovery because it gives a person something to focus on. Conversely, on really bad days your partner may not want to do anything and that’s okay as well.
How to look after yourself
When supporting someone who has depression, you are more than likely going to feel overwhelmed, confused and helpless. As your partner struggles to come to terms with how they’re feeling, they’re also likely to experience a range of negative emotions and there’s every possibility that you will bear the brunt of this, so looking after your own mental health is also important.
- Speak to other people – Whether it’s a trusted friend or family member, a support group, online community or individual counselling, it helps to talk about your feelings. Online communities are also a great way of getting advice from other people who have been through the same thing as you.
- It’s not your fault – It’s easy to wonder if there’s a possibility that it’s your fault your partner has depression and your partner might even outright blame you for it, but this isn’t the case. Depression is complicated, nobody fully understands it, and there are multiple reasons why a person might develop it.
- Do things for yourself – Both you and your partner will need to invest a lot of time and effort into overcoming depression and coping with the symptoms. Your needs are likely to be forgotten and all the focus will be on your partner. Whilst the person you love might not be able to give you the love and attention you need at the moment, it’s important that you remember to do things for yourself and don’t feel bad for doing so. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t continue to see your friends or attend gym classes you enjoy.
- Set boundaries – Whilst you will need to be sympathetic towards your partner during this time, remember you’re only human. They may exhibit destructive behaviours and irritability, so set boundaries so your partner knows what you will tolerate and what you consider to be unacceptable. As well as encouraging your partner to get help if they haven’t already, let them know your limits and what you can realistically cope with.
If you think that you or someone you know could be suffering from depression, please feel free to visit our Depression and Anxiety Treatment Programmes page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available.