If you’re in a relationship with someone who gets depressed it stands to reason his or her depression will affect both of you in different ways. If you work together you will both feel less isolated and hopefully more optimistic about a positive outcome. Even so, there are issues you’ll need to address personally. Here are my top 10 tips for coping with depression in your relationship:
It can be an unsettling time trying to support a person with depression. It’s a complex condition and while there are many common signs and symptoms every person reacts differently. Don’t get confused. You are stronger and more able to cope than you think. This is my first tip. Have faith in yourself and your future.
Work as a team. Depression is an isolating illness. The person who is depressed looks inwards and they may also push you away. As much as you can, try to keep your relationship alive by doing simple things together.
Relate to the person behind the illness. Don’t lose sight of the things you love about them. They may still respond to matters of interest, humor, shared moments from the past and so on. If you normally ask their advice or opinion about issues continue to do so.
They say we always hurt the one’s we love. It’s a truism that could have been written for depression. Sometimes people with depression can be hurtful in the things they say or do. Sometimes the problem is more about what they don’t say or do. Either way, try not to take things personally.
Get informed. The more you learn about depression and the treatment options, the more insightful and less confused you’ll become. Knowledge may help you to move past guilt, or blame, or anger. There’s a lot of stuff available and it may seem overwhelming at first. Work at your own pace. Try to grasp the essentials but don’t lose sight of your own feelings and insights into your partner.
Keep your expectations realistic. This will make more sense the more you learn about depression. For now it’s important to note you can’t cure their depression and neither can you speed it on or find ways to short cut it’s progression. Professional treatment can be helpful and reassuring so use what’s available.
Talk. This may sound the most natural and obvious thing to do but it’s surprising how many people don’t. Depression carries less of a stigma but it can still be difficult for people to open up and share their feelings. Partly this is due to the fact their partner is embarrassed or ashamed. Find someone you trust - a professional if you feel that’s easier - and get things off your chest.
You may very well find that as depression deepens your partner will want to do less and less. It can mean that your own life becomes more confined and restricted. As much as you can, stick to your routines. If you normally meet a friend on a certain day, keep it up. If you work, keep working. If you have a hobby, keep doing it. You may have to make certain adaptations but life, your life, must continue.
Look after yourself. It can be a taxing time and your support is only as good as your own health allows. If you’re not well yourself or you are feeling that you’re not coping then seek help.
Give support within your limitations. This is something you’ll have to judge for yourself. There may come a point when you feel you can’t cope, or you feel your own health starting to suffer. Giving care or support comes more easily to some people so don’t feel you are a failure if you’re struggling.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.