Life has its ups and downs. It is part of the human experience to feel down sometimes, to have a lack of energy for daily life, and to feel sad for a while. However, it is crucial to be able to distinguish between the emotional carousel of daily life and the experience of clinical depression. Depression can involve feeling sadness and a lack of energy for weeks or months at a time. There can also be a sense of hopelessness, feeling weighed down by life, and experiencing little or no pleasure in activities that brought joy in the past. Motivation to engage in daily activities is often impaired with depression. Simple daily tasks, such as making breakfast or showering can feel like monumental obstacles to overcome. Depression can also cause withdrawal and/or an inability to engage in relationships.
All of this can be daunting if you are the partner or spouse of someone who is depressed. You desperately want to help but you also feel frustrated and concerned. You want to express care but you might also feel angry. Even if you’ve experienced depression in your own life, it can feel very different to support a partner confronting a similar state. If you suspect or know that your partner may be depressed, these tips may help you to support them while taking good care of yourself.
- Validate your partner’s feelings. Encourage them to be open with you about how they feel.
- Show you care by asking what helps.
- Take good care of yourself, and reach out for support. It can be emotionally draining to live with someone who suffers from depression. It is important to recognize your own strengths and limitations in giving support.
- Don’t take it personally when your partner feels down. Remind yourself that with depression, thoughts are often distorted. Irrational thoughts come with the territory.
- If your partner is not getting help, encourage him/her to do so. There are many kinds of treatment for depression, and it is important to get professional help.
- Practical support can be very helpful. Remember that your partner may not have the energy to get out of bed in the morning or take out the garbage. If you can, ease the burden your partner is carrying by taking on some of these daily tasks until your partner is ready to resume his/her responsibilities.
- You cannot “fix it” or heal your partner. Being there, listening, and taking care of yourself can help both you and your partner to get through this difficult period.
- Don’t blame yourself. Depression can occur for a number of complex reasons that may have nothing to do with who you are or what you’ve done.
- Work through your own feelings. Living with someone who is depressed can bring on depressed feelings of your own. Seek support from friends, family, and/or a mental health professional.
- Pay attention to warning signs. If your partner talks about a desire to end their life, take it seriously. Make sure they get professional help immediately.
- Express unconditional love, and let your partner know you are there.
- Join a support group, where you can talk to others about your experience. It can be validating to talk with others who are having a similar experience.
- Remind your partner that this dark spell will not last forever.
All of these steps can help you to maintain your own balance while caring for your partner and help your partner to feel connected and cared for during a dark and lonely time. Ultimately, you may find that your relationship is all the stronger for having moved through this as a loving and supportive team.
Written by Meredith Cohn, LCSW