When your partner is struggling with depression, it can be hard to know how to support them. It may seem like they have everything going for them, yet they are still depressed. You may have tried many different ways in which to cheer them up, and nothing seems to have worked. You may have offered support by reminding them of how loved and cared for they are, yet that has not changed the way your partner feels.
Depression is a mental health disorder. It affects one in 15 adults in a year, according to the American Psychiatric Association. One in six people will experience depression at some point in their life, the APA states. Depression is not a feeling of sadness or grief. Sadness and grief come and go in waves and eventually subside. Clinical depression lasts longer than two weeks, and the person does not seem to enjoy the activities they once did.
What Is Depression?
It is wise to understand what depression is, its symptoms, and what causes it in order to support your partner. The more you know, the better you may be able to help them.
There are two common forms of depression. These are:
- Major depression – The symptoms last most of the day, almost every day for at least two weeks. Symptoms interfere with the person’s ability to sleep, eat, work, and enjoy life. Some people will experience only one episode throughout their life, but it is more common that someone will have several episodes.
- Persistent depressive disorder – This form of depression is also called dysthymia. Symptoms can last for at least two years and have periods of major depression coupled with periods of less severe symptoms.
Symptoms and Signs of Depression
The symptoms of depression affect people differently, as indicated by the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH). Not everyone will have all of the symptoms. Some people may have a few symptoms, while others may have many symptoms.
- Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or guilt
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Persistent sad, “empty,” or sad mood
- No interest in activities that once were pleasurable, such as hobbies and sex
- Decreased energy and fatigue
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Restlessness or irritability
- Trouble remembering, making decisions, or concentrating
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause, and do not let up with treatment
- Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
What Causes Depression?
While there is no one cause for depression, there are several thoughts from the medical and psychological professions. Mayo Clinic writes that there could be different factors that contribute to someone having depression.
- Biological differences. Some people could have physical changes in their brains. However, the significance of this is not certain, but it may help to identify the changes.
- Brain chemistry. Changes in the naturally occurring chemical in the brain called neurotransmitters may be a cause for depression. How the neurotransmitters interact with the brain’s neurocircuits may affect mood stability.
- Hormones. A change in hormone balance could cause depression. Hormone imbalance can stem from pregnancy, menopause, thyroid problems, and other functions that involve hormones.
- Inherited traits. Genes may play a role in depression, which might indicate that depression is an inherited condition for some people.
What Can You Do If Your Partner Is Depressed?
It may seem like there is nothing you can do to help your partner when they are depressed. Nevertheless, there are ways in which you can support them. Some of these come from PsychCentral and PsyCom, and others are learned.
- Educate yourself about depression but don’t lecture them about it.
- Encourage them to get treatment or talk to their doctor about medication.
- Listen compassionately. Ask questions, and empathize with them.
- Don’t judge or criticize them. That can lead to hurt feelings and resentment, which can exasperate their depression.
- Don’t belittle their depression. No one likes to feel belittled.
- Avoid trying the tough love approach. Try a soft, supportive approach instead.
- Small gestures are massively valuable, like giving them a greeting card or note of support.
- Offer assistance with household chores they might be ignoring. Offer to do the dishes, vacuum the carpet, or other tasks.
- Try not to make comparisons. Don’t compare your partner to how they were before.
- Avoid pat phrases, such as “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “it’ll be better tomorrow,” “how can you be so depressed when you have so much going for you?”
- Be patient. Not everyone will seek treatment for depression.
- Take time to take care of yourself. Self-care is just as important as caring for your partner. Try to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and break away for quick exercise.
What to Avoid When Supporting Your Partner with Depression
As much as there are ways to support your partner with depression, there are areas to avoid. Knowing these may help you better take care of your loved one.
Don’t take their depression personally, Healthline writes. Their depression is not your fault. If they lash out in anger or frustration, know that you are not the cause. Seek advice from an objective friend or family member, or therapist to help you cope.
Don’t try to “fix” them. Depression is a serious mental health condition that requires treatment.
Avoid offering advice about how to improve the symptoms of depression. Most people who are depressed will not listen anyway unless they ask for it.
Avoid stressing how medication could help their depression. Some people cannot tolerate the side effects of medication, and for some others, medication might not work at all.
If your partner mentions thoughts of suicide, attempts suicide, or displays a clear outcry for help, call a suicide hotline immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 800-273-8255. They can also be reached via an online chat from the above link.
Getting Help For Your Depressed Partner
It is heart-wrenching to watch someone you love who is depressed. It can be a lonely, frustrating time for you. The person you once knew as a happy, energetic love no longer seems that way. Nothing seems to be helping your love with their depression.
If you don’t know what else to do, Serenity at Summit offers licensed therapists who are educated and experienced in working with people with depression. If your partner is self-medicating, Serenity provides drug and alcohol addiction therapy through their dual diagnosis treatment program that treats mental health disorders alongside substance use. Reach out and get help today.