Originally published on Escape Writers.
If your partner has been diagnosed with or is exhibiting signs of depression, it will be strenuous on the relationship, and it can be stressful for you to figure out how to help. It is a self-isolating disorder that renders both the patient and the patient’s loved ones feeling hopeless and vulnerable.
My husband has been suffering from depression since he was a teenager. He can be triggered by random events or nothing at all, and in the past, I stood on the sidelines, at a loss as to why this was happening and what I should do. His depression has improved substantially due to improved self-care, self-awareness, and appropriate treatment. Over time, I have learned so much about the best ways to support my husband in his time of need. Depression is not an insurmountable condition. You can and should work together to get through the toughest parts.
Here are some ways to do just that.
- LEARN ABOUT DEPRESSION
Depression is a mood disorder that tends to cause a persistent feeling of sadness, loss of interest, and can interfere with your daily life. While depression can manifest differently in different people, there are certain symptoms that are characteristic of depression, including: feelings of sadness or hopelessness, changes in appetite, sleep disturbance, loss of interest in normal activities, fatigue, anger, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts. Depression can also be caused by a number of different factors, the main reasons being abuse, death of a loved one, genetics, major life event, substance abuse, and other serious illnesses. The more that you learn about depression and its many facets, the better equipped you will be to recognize the symptoms and support your partner. Although there will be hard times, you can still have a healthy and happy relationship.
- BE THERE AND SHOW THEM UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
When your partner is going through a particularly difficult time, be more intentional about making sure your love is felt, through whatever means they are most receptive to. Whether that means cooking their favorite dinner, watching their favorite movie, or spending quality time together, do whatever it is that will make them feel happy and loved. Reassure them that as challenging as the disorder is on you, you know it is much harder for them and that you are here to help.
- DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
It is common for people who are experiencing depression to lash out or push the people away who mean the most to them. Their depression does not indicate you are doing anything wrong. It is a disease, like any other, that can manifest without warning, and it is not your fault or your responsibility to make them better. Be the best partner you can to them and know that their depression is something out of your control.
- ENCOURAGE TREATMENT
Your partner’s symptoms may be mild or severe, and the effect that it may have on their life can vary. For many people with depression, the signs of depression may not be obvious to them, and they could be reluctant to seek outside help. However, depression rarely improves without treatment. You can help your partner by expressing your concerns, discussing treatment options, and helping make appointments. Offer to go with them to the appointments if that is something they want.
- MONITOR THEIR SELF-CARE BUT DON’T NAG THEM
For many people, self-care is an important part of keeping depressive episodes at bay. These things can include regular exercise, eating well, socialization with friends and family, and spending time doing what they love. Encourage them to keep up these good habits but don’t get on their case if they are slacking. You can offer support, but it is ultimately their responsibility to keep it up.
- KNOW WHEN TO STAY CLOSE AND WHEN TO GIVE THEM SPACE
Telling other people to leave them alone is a common response for people who are going through depressive episodes. Sometimes space is what they need, but other times, they need people around them who love them, even if it is just to sit in silence. When your partner tells you they need space, ask them to make sure that is really what they want. If they seem unsure or hesitant, stay close until they tell you otherwise.
- KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS AND LET THEM KNOW WHEN YOU SEE THEM
Your partner will likely have warning signs before they sink into a depressive episode. These can be things like abnormal sleep patterns, negative self-talk, being uninterested in doing things they previously enjoyed, or increased anxiety and stress. If you notice these tell-tale signs, let your partner know so that they can be cognizant and deliberate in trying to keep the episode at bay. They may not be aware of the signs when it is happening to them.
- NEVER USE THEIR ILLNESS AGAINST THEM
Even in the midst of arguments, never use things that your partner said or did during a depressive episode as a weapon against them. Talking about what happened is encouraged, but never use those incidents maliciously or as a way to make them feel guilty about what their disorder is doing to you. This will not be beneficial for their recovery process or for your relationship.
- BE PREPARED TO PICK UP SOME OF THE SLACK
If your partner is going through a depressive episode, it is unlikely they will be able to pull their weight when it comes to things like housework, errands, and paying the bills. Be willing and ready to cover some of their responsibilities during this time. Keep in mind that this is only temporary, that they are not doing this to try to catch a break, and do your best to not feel resentful about doing extra work.
- ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL FRUSTRATED AND TIRED
Being the one always in the supportive role when your partner is going through a difficult time can be challenging and exhausting. Your feelings are just as valid, and you need to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself and meeting your own needs before jumping into a supportive role. Seek support from someone who you trust to talk about your struggles. Don’t treat your partner’s depression as something shameful and try to hide it. Most of all, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Give what you can and don’t overdo it.
This will not be an easy process for either one of you. Remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There are resources and support available, so take advantage of them as much as possible. But as long as you keep your love for each other growing, your relationship at the forefront of your minds and always maintain open communication, you will be able to get through it together.