Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
It's estimated that 17.3 million adults in the United States alone have gone through a major depressive episode at least once, according to The National Institute of Mental Health. The severity of depression ranges from mild to severe. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 63.8% of those with a major depressive disorder are severely impaired by the condition. If you have a loved one with depression, you are not alone. It's a very common condition, and the good news is that it's treatable, but you might wonder, "how do I support my loved one with depression?" Today, we'll talk about how to support your loved one in a relationship. Some of these tips may also be beneficial for friends and family members, so don't hesitate to continue reading if you are a family member or friend of someone with depression.
Knowing the symptoms of depression and types of depression is one way to educate yourself on depression to be a supportive partner or spouse. Depression differs from sadness. Depression is a mental health condition characterized by a low or depressed mood and other symptoms. Here is a list of potential depression symptoms to be aware of:
- Low or depressed mood
- Feelings of emptiness or emotional numbness
- Loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness
- Sleep disturbance (whether sleeping too much or too little)
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Appetite changes
There are different types of depression, some of the most common being major depressive disorder (MDD), persistent depressive disorder (PDD), also known as dysthymia, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Seasonal affective disorder, bipolar disorder, and other conditions also come with periods of depression.
How To Support A Partner
Whether you have a friend, family member, or romantic partner who has depression, here are some things you can do. Of course, things will look different depending on items like a person's age and your relationship to them. Here are some things that you can do to help a romantic partner specifically.
When you're supporting someone through anything, listening, of course, is the most powerful and important thing to do. Especially when it comes to a mental health condition such as depression, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, you want to listen and refrain from advice-giving. If you're someone who wants to help by doing something tangible, that makes sense, and there are ways to do this without causing harm. Leave advice for mental health professionals. Instead, listen to, retain, and validate what a partner with depression tells you. If they tell you about their experiences, validate it by saying something like, "that sounds very painful." If they are open to it, you can also ask questions such as, "is there anything that triggers it or makes it worse?" and "is there anything you find helpful?" There are few things more isolating than receiving unsolicited advice when it comes to mental health conditions. If someone opens up about their condition, listen. Don't judge or try to fix it. They're the expert on their experiences. If you're thinking, "my friend has depression - not my spouse or partner," this is appropriate advice as well.
Ask What They Need
Everyone is different. We know this to be true as a general statement, but it's also true for the manifestation of depression and what helps a person with depression versus what might hurt. Whether your boyfriend is depressed, your girlfriend is depressed, or your friend is depressed, know that they are the expert on their own personal experience with depression again. So, ask what they need. A question like, "what can I do to best support you?" makes a world of difference. Maybe, they need you to listen, or maybe, they need you to help them find a therapist. It could be that they just need someone to sit with them or distract them today.
Volunteer To Go To Therapy With Them
Volunteering to attend therapy with your partner can help in so many ways. Say that they have a personal therapist and psychiatrist. Asking something like, "would you want me to come to an appointment with you so that I can learn more?" shows that you care and want to understand. This is, of course, mainly if they want you to. Typically, this would mean that you'd attend a personal appointment of theirs once (after they ask a therapist or psychiatrist if it's okay for you to come in for a session to learn more). Still, short-term couples counseling can also help you understand and support one another. This is also an incredible gesture if you're a close, immediate family member, such as a parent of someone with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or something else. It helps to destigmatize the experience of living with a mental health condition and understand the unique way a mental health condition affects your loved one and how to support them. What level of being hands-on/hands-off is appropriate when it comes to supporting someone.
Help Out In Tangible Ways
Household chores, cooking meals, making a phone call - all of these are tangible ways you can help someone with depression. Fatigue and other symptoms caused by depression can make it hard to get things done. Acts of kindness make anyone's day. Maybe, they're struggling with putting in a prescription refill for allergies. In that case, you can offer to put in the prescription refill or pick it up, if applicable. It could also be something small, like doing a load of laundry, helping someone tidy up their space, or giving them a small token of affection here and there (think of a card, a simple sweet saying or phrase is written on a sticky note, their favorite tea, a stuffed animal, or something else they like), just to show that they're loved. Learn their love language. Although this isn't specific to depression or something that'll help with the depression itself, it's a kind gesture. It shows that you're there during a hard time.
Dos And Don'ts For Supporting A Partner With Depression
Do make sure you're filling your own cup. Use self-care, and don't be afraid to seek the support of your own.
Don't give medical or mental health advice. This includes advice on food choices, medication, exercise, and supplements. Depression treatment is highly individual, suggesting that someone should exercise to decrease their depression; for example, may seem harmless, but depression is complex, and treatment is highly individual. Avoid doing this at all costs.
Do take time to educate yourself on depression.
Don't hesitate to reach out for help as a couple if you need it. Your relationship is more than depression, and couples counseling can support you through anything that comes up in your partnership.
Have I Fallen Out Of Love Or Am I Depressed?
Since emotional numbness can come with depression, among other symptoms, some people with depression wonder, "have I fallen out of love, or am I depressed?" This can contribute to feelings of guilt, which is not helpful for those with depression. Know that this is not your fault. If you know that you love your partner, express this feeling to your therapist or counselor. If you don't have one to talk to already, seeing a therapist one on one can help you work through any feelings of guilt, shame, or any genuine issues that may be going on in the relationship that are making you feel this way.
How To Deal With Depression In A Relationship
If you have depression, making an effort to educate your partner can be very helpful. Let them know what's beneficial to you, as well as what isn't. Extend an offer to go to counseling together so that your partner can understand their role - they're a supportive partner or spouse, likely not a caregiver. It can be hard to know how to strike that balance on the other end if this is true in some cases. Communicate when your depression symptoms are present so that your partner knows what's going on and understands that it isn't them. If your boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, or spouse has depression, asking how to best support someone (without overstepping or jumping into a caregiving role) is best.
Learning about the condition, listening, and helping out in tangible ways (household chores, and so on) are some of the most beneficial things to do. Take care of yourself first, and know that you can see someone to talk to about it if you're struggling. Additionally, whether you're the partner with depression or the partner of someone with depression, if there's ever a time where couples counseling may be beneficial, don't be afraid to reach out and go!
Take The Mind Diagnostics Depression Test
If you believe that you may be struggling with depression, reach out to a mental health professional or use a provider finder tool such as the search bar in the Mind Diagnostics website's upper right hand to find someone who can help. You can also contact a general doctor, your insurance company, or conduct a web search if you're unsure where to start. Depression is challenging, but there is hope.
Click here to take the Mind Diagnostics Depression test.