If a loved one is suffering from depression, it can be a challenging time for both of you. Since depression is very common, with up to 10%¹ of people experiencing depression within 12 months, and 20% of people experiencing it over a lifetime in the US, it’s not unlikely that you will go through supporting a loved one with depression if you are in a significant relationship.
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Depression is a mental health disorder with a variety of symptoms. Every person with depression is different, and some of these symptoms can be attributed to circumstances or stages of life. Feeling down is common, but having those feelings persist for over two weeks is not.
Losing interest in previously favorite activities
Feeling down or hopeless
Slower in speech or movements
Fatigue (particularly oversleeping or staying in bed for prolonged periods)
Overeating or undereating
Depression can be attributed to genetic causes, and some people may be more likely to experience depression because they have a genetic makeup that predisposes them to the disorder. Unfortunately, little is known about the genetics of depression at this point.
Depression can also be caused by life events. Today, depression is very common among the general population due to the coronavirus pandemic. This event caused isolation and anxiety worldwide, so it’s not unusual that it created a widespread mental health crisis.
However, the causes of depression can vary from person to person, and it is more likely to occur during periods of stress or tough times. Some people can also become depressed with no obvious cause, particularly if they are prone to depression because of their genetic makeup.
Depression can affect a relationship by making communication more difficult between partners. This is especially true when depression is causing someone to have issues completing regular tasks, for instance, struggling with basic personal hygiene.
Often, people are confused about how to recognize depression in a relationship. People with depression may act differently in a relationship because they rely on their partner to manage their workload — this can cause an unfair burden on their partner.
The above symptoms of depression can have a significant effect on interpersonal relationships. Loss of interest in prior favorite things can mean your partner no longer enjoys dating or bonding activities. It can make you feel like you’re losing your spark or interest.
This should be a red flag for you to check in with your partner. If you notice the above symptoms for a prolonged period, it might be time to talk to them about it.
Some people may ask if maintaining a healthy relationship is possible with depression. It absolutely is, but it requires communication, patience, and boundaries.
The best way to engage with your partner is by talking to them about your feelings and what you have noticed. Use “I” statements as a way to defuse their defensive responses. If you feel like they haven’t been hanging out with you enough, maybe say something along the lines of, “I’ve noticed we haven’t spent as much time together lately. How are you feeling about that?”
Struggling with depression is very difficult. It can be even harder when the person with depression notices that their condition is impacting those around them. Make sure you are in a good place mentally to sit and listen to your partner. Keep eye contact and reassure them that you are here for them and will not judge them.
One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with someone experiencing depression is setting reasonable boundaries. It is essential for both of you that you can each be comfortable in your own home — especially if you live together.
A major sign of depression is having difficulty dealing with everyday tasks. Sometimes this can look like an inability to brush their teeth, shower, do the dishes, or do any other household chores. If you aren’t careful, you can end up taking on the entire burden of running the household with no help from your partner.
One of the most essential boundaries to set is that you cannot take responsibility for your partner’s mental state. It is so important to get the person with depression to a health professional, so they can talk about their feelings with someone who is trained and can effectively treat them.
Remember that you are a support person, not the doctor or counselor treating the disease. If you look out for your own health first, you will be in a much better place to help your loved one deal with the everyday difficulties of their depression.
Depression is not a disease that is easily treated. It can take months or years to learn to deal with depression in a healthy way. Most people supporting someone with depression haven’t dealt with the reality that they are in this for the long haul.
Because depression is a disease, you can’t make someone with depression get better overnight. Support your loved one in finding medication or treatment that helps them, but don’t think fixing all their problems will stop their depression.
Supporting someone with depression can feel like a lot of talking on your part and maybe not a lot of action on your partner’s part. However, the best action you can take is to encourage them to see a doctor or other medical professional for their depression.
There are a lot of stigmas attached to a clinical diagnosis of depression, so if you have previously experienced depression yourself, you could consider disclosing that to your partner so that they don’t feel so alone.
Otherwise, a good thing to do is to destigmatize actions that help depression. You could text them a reminder to take their medication or pick them up from their doctor's appointment. This will help support them and show them that you are on their side as they receive treatment for their depression.
Helping to watch for a possible relapse can be a huge help for someone struggling with depression. Depression has a habit of coming back in a process known as relapse. This is when the signs and symptoms of depression listed above start coming back.
Relapse can happen even when a person is on medication. You should encourage your significant other to go to the doctor, even if they have used other treatments successfully in the past. The doctor is the person best prepared to help recommend treatment.
The best thing you can do to support your loved one with depression is to make sure you will be there with them over the long haul. You can achieve this by looking after yourself.
In other diseases, such as dementia, caregivers are recognized as people under a lot of duress. As a result, there are support systems for those who are fulfilling a caregiving role, including internet-based interventions.²
Although the same recognition for caregivers of those with depression is lacking, these internet-based interventions can still help you find the support you need. They may help you contact health providers, interact with your friends, find informational and decision-making support, and get your own psychological support.
If you know someone in your life is feeling depressed, you should:
Encourage them to see a doctor and seek treatment
Make plans with them on how they can get help and follow through with treatment
Help create a low-stress environment
These steps will help them to begin to overcome their depression and get them back on track to feeling healthy. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is make sure you are looking after yourself, so you can help support them throughout their disease. If at any point your loved one mentions suicidal feelings, please seek professional medical attention immediately.