Current statistics claim that 4 to 10% of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime. On almost a weekly basis high-profile sufferers ‘come out’ and share their stories. Alistair Campbell, Ashley Judd, Lady Gaga – to name just a few. Sharing experiences of depression has become much less taboo.
But what if you live with a depression that isn’t your own?
Somebody else’s depression can be just as destructive as suffering from the illness yourself. It can be incredibly frustrating to care for the person you love while feeling as though you’re powerless to do anything to help.
It’s worth remembering that depression can often be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, so if you think a loved one may be suffering, encourage them to visit their GP. But don’t force the issue. You can’t make somebody deal with depression if they don’t want to – they need to help themselves in the first instance.
Many of the behaviours associated with depression can mimic the breakdown of a relationship, for example, social isolation, lack of interest in sex, intolerance of someone else’s habits, a shorter temper…
This doesn’t mean you’re fighting a losing battle. There are measures you can take to make your own life easier, while still supporting the one you love.
Learn as Much as You Can
Make it your business to understand depression, and the impact it can have on your partner’s behaviour. Speak to a medical professional for more information, or do your own research – just make sure you rely on reputable resources. I recommend:
- Psychology Today
- The Blurt Foundation
- Depression Alliance
- There are plenty of articles about depression here on this blog
Offer Support, Not Direction
Make it clear to your partner that you love them, and will be there for whatever they need. This means listening to what they want and feel, not offering solutions.
Don’t tell them they ‘should’ do this or that. Don’t push them towards a solution they don’t want or aren’t ready for. Encourage them to open up to you about what’s going on, and then offer whatever assistance you can.
Stay on the Same Team
Depression is an interloper in your relationship. Your partner is not the enemy, their illness is, and you should work to present a united front.
Be aware that your intimacy may decline. You may have to attend social engagements alone. There may be a shift in household responsibilities.
This doesn’t mean your spouse doesn’t love you, so don’t aim blame their way. Depression isn’t something they’re doing to you, so as hard as it may be, try not to take their actions personally.
Agree on Coping Strategies in Advance
Knowing how to help your other half when they’re struggling to communicate with you can be very challenging. Talk openly, when they’re feeling well, about how you can best help them in future. Outlining a script, of sorts, can help you both in so many ways. They’ll feel supported, and you’ll feel less powerless.
Encourage your partner to outline the key stages of their depression, how to recognise each stage, and how they would like you to handle each step.
It may become second nature to focus all your attention on your spouse and their illness.
Don’t let their depression become the centre of your life. You deserve a nice home, a fulfilling career, a social life, meaningful hobby – and it’s perfectly acceptable to pursue these, guilt-free. Prioritising your partner’s mental health above all else can negatively impact your own, so be aware of your emotional landscape, and make sure you make time for your own self-care.
If you, or someone you know, struggle with depression and you would like help to put the ideas mentioned here into practice I can help not matter where you are. I work both face-to-face and online.
- Mental health statistics: the most common mental health problems
- What are the symptoms of depression?
- 10 ways to help yourself when your partner is depressed