If you live with a depressed person, you know how hard it can be—sometimes harder than being depressed yourself. Depression wreaks havoc on relationships and, according to one study, it makes divorce nine times more likely. While none of us can make another person get better or get help, it is crucial for you to resist being drawn into your partner’s sense of hopelessness and helplessness, a key feature of depression.
Try these steps to help your partner and yourself.
Depression is usually not the depressed person’s fault and it’s important to understand that depression is a serious disorder. Without that awareness, it would be easy to make the mistake of blaming the person for their mood.
Here are a few things you should avoid saying:
- “Snap out of it”
- “It’s not that bad”
- “Stop being so negative”
Comments like that will only send your loved one further down into the dark, isolated world they’re already in. It’s better to normalize the experience. Mention that more than 300 million adults suffer from depression worldwide and that your partner is not alone in this.
In addition, it’s best not to offer to “fix” whatever you think the problem is – becoming the fixer will only increase your partner’s sense of helplessness, something she simply has to overcome to get better. In other words, taking action himself is the only thing that will improve your partner’s depression in the long-term. Plus, depressed people are often too troubled to appreciate things like logic and a “let’s just fix it” approach.
Instead, simply say things like “How can I help you right now?” or “I can tell you’re suffering, and I want you to know I’m here to support you, no matter what it takes.” That’s the kind of sentiment they’ll be able to process and thank you for.
Living with a depressed person gives you the opportunity to educate yourself about depression. Depression is often expressed as irritability, anger, pessimism, frustration, or sadness. Here are some common symptoms of depression:
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Lack of energy
- Sleep problems
- Appetite changes
- Anxiety or restless behavior
- Trouble thinking clearly or making decisions
Encourage your partner to get help
Few depressed people seek the treatment they need (it’s as low as 33 percent according to one study), So you should definitely encourage your partner to seek professional help. Prepare for having to do this more than once. “What’s the point?” is the depressed person’s life mantra so the more you realize that your partner’s mind is a bit warped right now, the easier you can refute any argument against therapy. Look out for these little self-defeating nuggets tossed your way whenever you bring up the subject of finding a therapist.
- Therapy doesn’t work anyway. Talking about my depression doesn’t do anything, in fact, it makes me feel worse! Of course, your answer to both caveats is wrong and wrong honey! According to the National Mental Health Institution, more than 80 percent of people who sought counseling for their depression saw their symptoms improve greatly within a couple of months.
- Therapy is too expensive! Not as expensive as staying depressed. The financial cost of being depressed and staying that way can’t be overstated. Plus, many therapists accept insurance and all you have to pay is your co-pay.
- I don’t have time for therapy! Really? This one should be easily refuted by discussing your partner’s schedule in detail and pointing out the many times where he has 1 hour available to meet with a counselor weekly.
You can’t help a depressed person if you neglect to help yourself.
It would be smart to seek your own counselor or at least talk with someone close to you about what you’re experiencing. You might also consider finding a counselor who can help both you and your depressed friend in joint therapy sessions.
Get on with your own life
Realize when you have done all you can to try and help your partner. It’s the harsh reality of adult life that we are responsible for our own lives and no matter how badly we feel, we owe it to our loved ones to act right and do right by ourselves and them. This includes getting help for our depression and taking control of what is happening to us. So, while I believe being supportive and accepting of a depressed partner is the best strategy, I also think that there comes a point where staying home every night to support a depressed partner who refuses to get help turns into enabling. So, go ahead and make plans with friends regularly or find a new hobby or career goal and then stick with it. In other words, make yourself happy and model taking control over your life to your partner. The best thing he can do is follow your lead and start getting proactive about his own life again.
For more tips on how to overcome depression, click here to visit my specialty page on depression.