When a loved one is struggling with their mental health and depression it can be difficult to know how best to support them. This might leave you feeling helpless and even scared that they will slip away from you.
This can affect both you and your partner as depression can permeate through a relationship. You can stop any negative impacts of this permeation by being aware of it and supporting each other through the difficult times.
Sometimes our partner might feel that sharing how bad they are feeling will be a burden on you. So instead, they remain quiet. This might make you feel even more isolated and helpless. Creating a strong and open communication pathway with empathy and understanding will be the best platform for the both of you to work form.
Having a good understanding of depression will put you in a strong position to work from. With this knowledge you can increase your understanding about what your partner might be going through.
There is no ‘one cause’ to depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the cause could be genetic, environmental, or psychological factors. It could also be a combination of these. Basically, major depression can affect anyone at any time, and it is not their fault.
Depression is a chemical imbalance that affects different neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. This is why it is impossible for a person to ‘pull themselves out’ of depression without assistance. Understanding this will also help you know that it isn’t a choice your partner is making, they cannot help how they are feeling and with your support they can get through this dip and back to who they were.
Having a mental health condition like depression can be debilitating and affects all aspects of a person’s life. This includes their thoughts, physical well being, social interactions, and ability to work. Very often they need more support from their loved ones than they are able to ask for.
There are ways to support your partner through the dips of depression. It might seem that you are walking a tight rope, because in a depressive dip your partner can be irritable and closed off. Remember that they are trying as hard as they can to function, and your support does mean a lot to them.
Try not to take the irritability, or when they don’t get excited about an idea you have personally. This is not an attack on you, this is them trying to survive. This doesn’t mean you are a doormat or should accept being disrespected. You can still have your boundaries and respect during this difficult time.
Remember that this is not going to be forever, your partner will lift out of the depressive dip with the correct assistance. This is an opportunity for you to learn a lot about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. It is a time where you will see how strong your bond is and your eyes will open to how strong each of you are.
There are some things that you can do to support your partner through this depressive dip.
No one likes to be told what to do. When you are depressed, you like it even less. Mainly because you have spent the last ten minutes telling yourself what you should be doing, and you are still unable to do it.
When your partner is feeling depressed, they are berating themselves for not washing their hair or changing into clean clothes. If you tell them that they ‘should’ do it because ‘they will feel better’, they are going to shut you out because it is too similar to the judgement, they are subjecting themselves to.
You could suggest, offer to help, encourage them towards actions that will help them feel better. “I noticed you are in yesterday’s clothes; can I bring you some clean ones?” will be received more kindly and helpfully.
Find out how your partner is feeling, ask them to describe what their depression feels like. You can validate their feelings and experiences by hearing them and accepting them.
Checking in throughout the day can be another way to validate their feelings. You could come up with a code, like a scale from 1 to 10 or green to red, to help make check in’s easier.
Share how you see their experience; this helps to show them that you are actively listening and present with them. Try to use “I see…” sentences.
For example, “I see that you are tired.” Or “I see that you feel like you are at the bottom of a black pit, and this must be scary for you.” These validations help make sure that you both are together in this experience.
If you are concerned about the length or severity of your partner’s depression, if self-harm or suicide is a concern then encouraging them to seek professional help will be important.
As depression is a mental health condition that affects neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain, there are times where medical assistance is needed to return the natural balance. This can be done through a combination of medication and talk therapy.
This combination looks at tailoring an individual response for your partner. You will be a part of this process and the therapist may ask you to join them for a few sessions.
Seeking professional help is not something for your partner to be embarrassed about and your encouragement can help them get the support they need.
The focus is often on the things that need to be done or that your partner is not doing. Try shift the focus to acknowledge the achievements and bravery that your partner is showing. Without being patronizing, acknowledge and complement them on what they have been able to do.
You could comment on how hard they are trying, or that it is alright that they had a bad day. Reassurance can be important to your partner as they may question why you would want to remain with them.
When your partner is in a depressive state it is unlikely that they are being kind to themselves. They are most likely feeling ashamed, exhausted, annoyed with themselves, guilty, or completely numb. They will not be able to recognize their victories or achievements. By reflecting them to your partner you are helping shine some light on the darkness they find themselves in.
Although there will inevitably be something you do that will upset your partner (and vice versa) there are a few things that you can try avoiding. These things may seem like they would help, but actually can make your partner feel worse.
Knowing what you do now about depression, you know that it is not simply feeling sad, and they can’t simply cheer up. Asking them to do this is like asking a fish to climb a tree. From where they are sitting, this is an impossible task.
This might result in an angry response and pushing you away from them because they feel that you don’t understand. Or it might make them feel guilty for not being able to do this and they withdraw further into their depression. Either way it is not a response that you want.
Instead ask them how they are feeling and if there is something you could do together to help lift them up. Doing things you enjoyed doing together is a good idea. Even though your partner might not feel like getting dressed and walking through the craft market, encourage them to give it a try and they will most likely enjoy the experience.
Doing things together helps your partner to ‘cheer up’ without the overt judgement and shame that is associated with someone simply telling you to cheer up.
Depression cannot be compared. The causes of depression are so complex and intricate that we don’t understand it fully yet. However, we know that it cannot be compared between people. Life is relative and everyone’s experience is their own.
By saying that someone else has it worse suggests that your partner shouldn’t be feeling like they do. It is understandable that you might get tired and irritable yourself, if that happens then you might feel like telling them to ‘pull themselves together’. Instead of this, take some time for yourself and step away.
There is far more harm that can be done by a statement than by you stepping out for some air.
You might be tempted to show your partner that you understand what they are going through by comparing their feelings to yours or sharing stories of when you felt similar. This isn’t actually helpful.
Rather than shifting the focus to yourself, be with your partner in the uncomfortable space they are in and keep the focus on their experience. This shows that you are present and ready to be with them through the journey that they are on.
Simply being with your partner on this journey without trying to ‘fix them’ is one of the hardest things to ask of a partner. You love them and it is natural that you want them to feel good. Simply being with your partner is a big part of how you can help them. When it comes to supporting someone in depression, being rather than doing is key.
Remember that this journey will take a lot out of you, so you need to take care of yourself as well. This could mean setting clear boundaries and taking your own time to do something you enjoy. It could mean being clear about what you need from your partner during this time.
Taking care of yourself is important at all times, but it becomes particularly helpful during times of stress. The saying ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ is a classic for a reason. During a depressive dip your partner won’t be able to fill your cup – so you need to make sure you are keeping it full yourself.
This might mean seeing a mental health professional yourself. This way they can help you understand what is happening to your partner and help you understand what is happening to you as a result. It can be helpful to have a safe space to vent and talk about what you are feeling.
Having a partner who is experiencing depression can be challenging. They will need your support and care during this time. It is not an easy journey to travel, and the bond you nurture during it will become stronger.
If you or your partner need assistance, then reach out and contact us at One Life Counselling and Coaching to book an appointment.