How to help a partner cope with depression
Depression Therapy in Bethesda, MD
If your partner is depressed, you may feel alone, helpless, resentful, and exhausted. It is so hard to watch someone you love suffer and not know how to help them. Oftentimes, we talk about depression as if it only affects the person who is depressed. However, research tells us that untreated depression poses a very real threat to relationships: in marriages where one of the partners struggles with depression, the divorce rate is nine times higher. Here are some tips to help your partner (and your relationship!) cope with depression:
Acknowledge that depression is an illness, not an excuse
The World Health Organization notes that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. However, it is still very difficult for many of us to acknowledge that depression is an illness, just like diabetes and heart disease. Even the most well-intentioned person may believe that his/her spouse is lazy, stubborn, has anger issues, lacks initiative, or is simply manipulative. The difficult truth is that depression is a chronic illness. You cannot help your partner if you believe that their depressive symptoms are just a “bad mood” or “pessimistic attitude.”
Knowledge is power
Unless you have struggled with depression, it can be really hard to understand the emotional, physical, and relational costs. The first step to help your partner cope with depression is truly understanding what depression is and isn’t. I recommend reading about depression before talking with your partner. While he or she may understand how depression feels, you can begin to explain that this feeling is common, but not normal, and there are many treatment options available. Anne Sheffield’s How you can Survive when they’re Depressed is a great resource for anyone who loves someone struggling with depression.
Help them help themselves
Once you have spoken with your partner about your concerns, it is time to get an official diagnosis. Some physical health problems (e.g., underactive thyroid) can cause depression, so it is really important to visit your primary care physician to rule out any physical health problems. After meeting with your primary care physician, a psychiatrist or mental health provider can be helpful in diagnosing depression and identifying treatment options. It might be hard for your partner to make these appointments, even if they are interested in finding treatment options. You can schedule the appointment and/or tag along to the appointment and discuss your concerns. It is really helpful for the psychiatrist and/or therapist to hear your perspective, so don’t be shy about sharing why you are concerned about your partner.
Take care of yourself
Whether your partner chooses to get help or not, it is important that you prioritize your mental health and physical well-being. You need to have people in your corner who understand depression (or other mental health problems) and/or are willing to take the time to understand that depression is an illness. Individual counseling can help you understand how your partner’s depression affects you and identify healthy ways of coping. Finally, it is really important to try to shift your focus from your partner to yourself. Try this: whenever you encourage your partner to do something to help their depression (e.g., go for a walk), ask yourself whether you have done the same for yourself. You’ll quickly see how much you are prioritizing your partner over yourself.
Depression is very treatable and most people notice a decrease in symptoms with talk therapy and/or medication. Unfortunately, due to the stigma, many people don’t get help. We’re here to help you and your partner find a way forward.
Cara Nazareth, MS, LCMFT offers couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda office. She is adept at helping both individuals and couples cope with depression and other mental health diagnoses. Email or call her today to schedule your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.