It can be hard to be in a relationship with someone with depression. For one thing, it’s hard to see someone you love suffer. Also, depression can make someone more irritable, angry, or withdrawn. The symptoms of depression may lead to more arguments, frustration, or feelings of alienation. It can be frustrating when you want to go out and do things and your partner doesn’t want to leave the house. Although depression can be challenging, most people want to do what they can to help. After all, for most people, depression won’t last forever. If your partner has depression, here are some ways you can help her through it and maybe even strengthen your relationship in the process.
First and foremost, be patient. Your partner doesn’t want to be depressed; it’s just something that happens. Try not to take it personally if she is irritable or distant. It’s not you; it’s the depression. It might help to think of depression as you would any other illness. If your partner had the flu, for example, you wouldn’t be angry about her sitting around all day or not helping with the dishes. Unfortunately, an episode of depression lasts longer than the flu, but the principle is the same.
Recognize the symptoms.
When you know the symptoms of depression you can more easily distance yourself from behavior that might otherwise strain your relationship. You can say to yourself “That’s the depression talking” and not feel so hurt. Symptoms of depression typically include sadness, irritability, anger, hopelessness, disturbed sleep, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, feelings of worthlessness, lethargy, isolation, and thoughts of suicide or death. Realize that these feelings aren’t about you. When your partner says “life is horrible,” it doesn’t mean living with you is horrible, it just means he feels horrible about life. Knowing the symptoms of depression also helps you recognize the beginning of another episode. If you catch an episode early enough, you can sometimes limit its severity.
Do things together.
It’s important to be there and keep doing things together. This can be challenging sometimes, when your partner doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything. Sometimes, just sitting and watching TV together is enough. Depression often makes you feel like you want to be alone, but often being alone only makes it worse. Keep doing things together even if you have to dial it back a bit. A work party or a 10k race might be out of the question, but maybe you can go for a walk in the park or go see a movie together.
Encourage your partner to get help.
Sometimes depression goes away on its own, but getting professional help can shorten a depressive episode and make it less likely to recur. Unfortunately, depression can make you feel like you either don’t want help or that there’s no point. Don’t force the issue, but make the suggestion and repeat it. Emphasize that therapy really does help people and that you want to see your partner get better.
Help your partner get help.
Even if your partner does want to get help, actually making the effort can feel impossible. Even relatively simple tasks like searching for therapists in your area can feel overwhelming when you’re depressed. The effort it takes to research likely candidates and actually make an appointment might seem totally out of the question. You can help with this process a lot. Even if you can’t make the final decision or do the work or therapy for her, you can help her find a therapist, make an appointment, and drive her there.
It’s tempting to offer all sorts of advice to help your partner feel better, but often it’s better just to listen. Quite often, people with depression realize that what they’re feeling doesn’t make sense but they feel it anyway. Listening lets him know you care and want to understand. Ask questions questions and show your support. Just being there and listening can help.
Help your partner stick to a treatment plan.
There are two major sticking points in a treatment plan for depression: getting started and sticking with it once you feel a little better. Getting started is hard because depression makes you lethargic and pessimistic. It’s not laziness; your arms and legs physically feel heavier. This makes it harder to start on a treatment plan, so reminders and encouragement can help. If exercise is part of the plan, exercise together. Remind him to take his medication or supplements every morning. Once things start improving, make sure he keeps up with the treatment plan. It’s tempting to let it go once the depression lifts but doing things like exercising regularly, eating healthy, and practicing stress management and emotional regulation will help you keep improving and make a relapse less likely.
Take care of yourself too.
An episode of depression may last months. Although you may be committed to caring for your depressed partner, you have to take care of yourself as well. Be sure you’re getting enough sleep and exercise and eating healthy. Spend time with friends and family who can help you manage the stress of caring for a depressed loved one. Take time to relax and do things you enjoy.
Know the warning signs of suicide.
Watch out for the warning signs of suicide. In addition to the other signs of depression, these warning signs may include talking about suicide, expressing feelings such as being a burden, feeling trapped, or being in unbearable pain, tying up loose ends like saying goodbye to people or giving away valued possessions, or looking for a means of committing suicide, such as pills or a gun. Don’t take these warning signs lightly. They may just tell you they’re considering suicide. In that case, take them seriously, stay with them, and make sure they don’t have the means at hand. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or bring your partner to the emergency room.
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