Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can affect anyone. It doesn't matter the age, gender, or relationship status of a person. It can be hard to know the "right" way on how to love someone with depression. You obviously want to help the person, but you might be concerned about doing or saying the wrong thing. And you are likely worried that if you do something wrong, it will push your S/O away from you.
It's a difficult situation to be in. And you might not know who to turn to. Know that there are always people to help you. For instance, we asked the experts how to love someone with depression. Read on to hear their tips and remember that if you or a loved one is struggling, there is professional help out there, and there is never any shame in getting it.
Routine is key with depression, per Novotny. This works out well considering that couples in long-term relationships naturally fall into routines. He suggests that a couple can eat together, go to bed together, do bonding activities together, etc., and that having the person know what they can expect from you will help them feel stability in your relationship.
Rebecca Newman, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Philadelphia, continues that depression is a chronic illness, like diabetes, hypertension, or asthma. It can cycle over a person's lifespan. At times it can be more active than others. For example, it could be activated by an event such as death of a family member. It could also be idiopathic (arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause). What people in relationships with those dealing with depression should remember is that the person might have a routine in place for managing his/her depression and he/she won't expect you to "fix" or "cure it." Newman states that a person dealing with depression might have steps set in place such as medication, going to a therapist, doing self-care, and more.
Novotny states that talking can be great because it creates a connection between you and your partner. Furthermore, it helps a relationship feel less one-sided. If you're wondering what to talk about, Novotny says that it can be very helpful to practice gratitude together. Showing gratitude is simply saying what you are thankful for. "Being thankful creates connection and emotional intimacy," he explains. "The couple could have a gratitude list they read to each other daily."
This is something that you might not have heard of unless you've researched depression and/or mental health. Newman explains the Ring Theory is a great way to understand how to support a person in a time of need. The model gets its name by imagining that the affected person is in the center and their significant relationships form concentric rings around one another. "You provide comfort inwards and dump out," continues Newman. "As a partner, you need people outside of the relationship to support the challenges that you're facing. This may take the form of a therapist, friends, spiritual support, or family. The important thing to remember is that your partner affected by depression cannot support you [in regards to] the impact of their depression." That is why the person is in the center of the Ring Theory. Therefore, it's important to have people to go on those proverbial outer rings to support your own needs/you can "dump things out" with.
Wondering what's the best way to support your partner with depression? Newman says it directly begins with helping your S/O complete tasks to better manage his/her mood. This could encompass everything from cooking, cleaning, or doing errands so offer help. "Your partner may reject you doing 'nice' things for them [by] saying 'you don't have to,' as we all have trouble accepting help sometimes," warns Newman. "Continue to offer or step in saying, 'I know I don't have to, I want to.'"
"Support via non-verbal communication is a role that a partner is uniquely suited to fill," reveals Newman. "If your partner enjoys it, physical affection like holding hands, cuddling, or just sitting close to each other on the couch can be a helpful way to feel connected, even when depression is creating an emotional divide."
She says to "tune in to your partner's love language" and communicate your support and affection that way, even if it is not how you would choose to be supported during a challenging time.
Even those who have regimens set in place to manage their depression can still use support. Newman likens a person having depression to someone with asthma. "Even someone with well-managed asthma may require a rescue inhaler from time to time, which is similar to how depression can recur," she states. "With [the aforementioned routine] activities as a part of a person's regimen, an episode of depression is less likely, but still possible, and it is important to be present and attentive without blaming the person for being 'too sad all the time.'" When things do happen, be that rock and be there physically and emotionally.
We have talked a lot about researching depression to gain further insight on it. Plus, we discussed different things you can talk to your partner about. Another thing to do is go outside. Go on a walk. Play some basketball or tennis. Go on a run together. Basically, do whatever you fancy. Novotny reasons, "There is something about the outdoors and moving the body that helps to get one out of [his/her] own head." Oswald adds that social and physical activities are beneficial to people who tend to isolate themselves.
Also, Oswald says that ignoring things will not make them go away on their own. Think about it this way: "Acknowledging reality allows us to deal with what is happening," he says. "Depressed people lack motivation and hope. This will often keep them stuck. Being an advocate, support, and voice for the depressed person will be a great help and possibly provide the needed energy to move forward."
Newman continues that professional support is completely different than the support a partner, family, or friends can provide. "A professional exists in your life solely to be in your corner, and you don't have any other accountability or responsibility to them," she explains. "A partner, sibling, friend, or family member relationship is a two-sided relationship. While those people can offer you support, they cannot be wholly objective and devoted to your well-being since they have a stake in the game, too."
It can be incredibly hard to bring up professional support to a person with depression. Newman suggests saying something like: "Being here for you is important to me, and I will continue to support you through your depression. I'm concerned that I can only offer you support in a limited way, and I want you to have a relationship in which you can talk openly and honestly about everything that's going on with you and your needs. I think it will help you feel better, and will even help you communicate more clearly with me how I can best support you. What do you think?"
It can be hard to put things in perspective and look at your relationship from a distance when you're so involved in it. But, try to. "Your partner wants to return to their normal functioning, and it is not your 'fault' if they can't," explains Newman. "Your partner still loves you, even if they are not able to show it as they usually would." It might be difficult, but try not to take things personally and feel your partner has lost interest. Newman says this includes things like fewer smiles, reduced libido, and depressed mood. "Coming out of depression takes time and care...while any chronic illness can be discouraging, hold closely the connection you feel with your partner and the ways in which they enrich your life as you provide support during this difficult time," she says.
Novotny points out, "Remember, you're fighting against depression, not the person. Love can conquer many things, including depression. So work together, educate yourself, and plan self and couple care."
If you or a loved one is in need of help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to talk with a trained counselor.