How to Help Your Partner Cope with Depression
Depression is a debilitating disease that affects every aspect of someone’s life. No matter how strong your relationship is, being romantically involved with someone affected by depression can be draining on your relationship and on your own mental health. However, a good support system is one of the best ways to help a loved one cope with their illness. Romantic partners are typically a huge part of that system and you may be able to make a significant difference in your partners recovery with your support.
But even if you are a loving partner, you might not be as helpful as you want to be if you aren’t sure how to actually help your significant other. Depression is tricky to deal with, and what you perceive as helpful may do more harm than good. Here are a few things to keep in mind and some tips to help your partner with their depression:
1. Educate Yourself
Before anything else, do your best to learn about depression — its symptoms, statistics, common treatments, and any other relevant information. There are also different kinds of depression, so take the time to do additional research on the type your partner has. You want to be able to do what’s best for your partner, and different kinds of depression may not be treated in the same way. For example, treatment for postpartum depression may not necessarily be the same as treatment for dysthymic disorder.
Use all of your research to help your partner. Try to understand what is happening to them, both physically and mentally. Depression is a medical condition, not a bad mood or personality flaw, and you will be much better equipped to support your significant other if you understand it.
2. Always Listen
One of the best things you can do for your significant other is to simply be there for them. Knowing they can rely on you, both in good times and in bad, can be a source of great comfort on a bad day. Having the opportunity to express thoughts and feelings can make overwhelming emotions seem smaller and more manageable, especially if they feel safe and free from judgement.
Always listen to what your partner has to say and ask what kind of support they need in that moment. Do they want advice? Comfort and reassurance? Or do they simply need to say what’s on their mind to someone they trust? Be mindful of their needs, as offering unsolicited advice when they are seeking comfort can be alienating and unhelpful. In addition, be careful of what you say and how you say it. What sounds helpful to you may not be to your partner.
3. Push Back
Depression can be all-encompassing, to the point where your partner may truly be unable to function normally. Do your best to fight back. When your significant other feels like they can’t even get up to shower or for a short walk, encourage them as much as possible. Sometimes getting out of bed is the hardest part of the day, but if they can manage it, they may feel significantly better.
There is a fine line between encouragement and pushing too hard. External help may be just what they need to overcome their episode or they may feel even worse because they simply cannot do anything. If that is the case, reassure them that it’s okay and ask what you can do to help. By taking some initiative on chores or errands, you can help your partner by taking some of the pressure off and accomplishing tasks that wouldn’t get done otherwise.
4. Focus on Happiness
Help your partner stay positive and encourage them to find happiness where they can, though depression often makes that easier said than done. After all, depression often causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities that once brought joy. There is no easy equation to find happiness — it is a complex emotion that depression complicates further — but it’s still worth striving for. Even small or temporary happiness can be a huge relief in the cloud of depression.
Bradley University outlines several useful coping skills that supporters can introduce to their partners to help them cultivate happiness, some of which are:
- Being present: Depression can cause people to dwell on unpleasant memories from the past or feel fearful of the uncertain future. Try to help your partner live in the moment and be mindful of the present. It could be as simple as reminding them to truly taste the food they’re eating or to enjoy the feeling of sunshine on their skin.
- Practicing self-control: Everyone has their own coping methods, some of which are healthy and others that are not. Depression can cause people to spiral out of control into unhealthy habits, such as drinking, drug use, overeating, or smoking. If your significant other feels the need to fall back on an unhealthy coping mechanism, encourage them to try a healthier alternative. These will help your partner feel better while curbing negative side effects from old habits.
- Enjoying the little things: The world is an exhausting and overwhelming place, and even simple tasks can feel impossible for someone who has depression. Your partner may worry about the big picture of things that are out of their control; instead, remind them to focus on what they can achieve and to derive pleasure from that. It could be pride from doing the dishes or a sense of accomplishment from leaving the house that day.
These exercises will not be able to replace treatment from a medical professional, but can interrupt a depressive episode enough for your partner to be able to see some of the good in the world.
5. Take Care of Yourself
On a final note, be sure to take care of yourself too. Helping a loved one with depression can take its emotional toll and can impact your own mental health. Take time for yourself, your hobbies, and the other people in your life. You are your own person and your relationship is only one aspect of your life. No matter how much you want to be there for your partner, it’s still important to not let them or their depression take over either of your lives.
Keep in mind that you are not responsible for taking care of someone else’s recovery, especially if doing so begins to negatively affect your own mental health. Recovery depends on the person affected putting in the effort to overcome their illness; external help can only do so much. While you can offer encouragement and love, at the end of the day, it is not up to you to “cure” your partner. All you can do is be there for them.
Depression is a complicated illness and there is no single answer to coping with it but overcoming depression is much easier with loved ones’ support. Though there will be both good and bad days, you’ve taken a great first step in helping your partner by deciding to take an active role in their recovery.