Helplessness. Sorrow. Frustration. Living with a spouse, a child, or another loved one with depression often causes a range of unwanted feelings and puts a strain on the relationship. It’s important to remember that these feelings are both normal and natural, and believe it or not, they are present at some point in every marriage or parent-child relationship. The difference is that when you’re living with someone with depression, your relationship is impacted by behaviors that result from involuntary shifts in brain chemistry. These shifts impact mood, energy level, sleep, and other factors that can cause disruptions in family life and relationship expectations.
But every day, people with depression find healthy ways to manage their symptoms and live healthy lives complete with fulfilling relationships. If your spouse, partner, or child suffers from depression, take a look below at the following ways that you can help.
One of the most important things you can do when living with someone who has depression is to learn as much as you can about the disorder. The more able you are to understand the ways that the disorder affects the person, the more equipped you’ll be to depersonalize the behaviors. For example, a person with depression may have an intense need for love and acceptance and at the same time be unable to reciprocate, leaving their loved ones to feel hurt and angry. Educating yourself can help you remember that it’s the disorder that’s causing the disconnect, not the person. From there, you’ll be better equipped to find ways to help you feel connected to your loved one.
Listen with love and acceptance
Depression is usually episodic, meaning that it is not a continuous state of apathy and lethargy but rather ebbs and flows. There may be times when your loved one seems better, full of energy and the ability to connect. During these times, ask questions and learn as much as you can about the experience your loved one has during the depressive episodes. This will help you provide empathy when it is most needed. Additionally, if your loved one expresses fears, doubts, or unsettling thoughts during the low periods, try to listen without judgment. It’s also important that you both agree not to make any major decisions regarding the relationship during the depressive episodes.
Offer support in specific ways
Attend doctor’s visits. Pick up medications at the pharmacy. Help get your loved one out for a walk. Offering support in active, concrete ways is a great way to express your love to someone living with depression. Not only are you providing a supportive presence, but these specific actions will also serve as a reminder to yourself that even though you cannot “fix” the situation, you are doing your best to show up and help.
When a loved one has depression, it is easy to slip into thinking that they will get better if you would just do more, but this is not true. The more you succumb to that way of thinking, the more you deplete yourself. Take the time to exercise, meditate, and do things that give you pleasure. If you start feeling guilty for taking time to yourself, remember that you can only give as much as you have. So it’s actually in your loved one’s best interest for you to take care of yourself.
Make an agreement
When your loved one is not in a depressive state, make an agreement together about how to proceed when the depression sets in. For example, you can decide that certain signs mean, “Give me some space,” “Show me a little extra love,” or “Insist that I call my therapist.” The more attuned you and your partner are with each other, and the better the communication between you, the more you can be of assistance when depression sets in. And knowing what to expect and how to proceed will give you peace of mind.
Depression shows up differently in different people, which means there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment. Sometimes finding the right treatment for depression can be a matter of trial and error, but it’s important to stick it out. When clinical depression goes untreated, it’s unhealthy and can result in a downward spiral of ruined relationships, risky behaviors, and addiction. Encouraging your loved one to seek and follow through with treatment for depression is an important part of supporting someone who suffers from the disorder.
We can help
At Alvarado Parkway Institute in San Diego, we offer inpatient and outpatient programs for those suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and other mental illnesses and disorders. We seek to educate, support, and provide solutions for our patients and their families. We believe that together, we can all make a difference in helping loved ones manage their symptoms and live healthy, meaningful lives, full of beauty, connection, and joy.