How to Effectively Navigate Supporting a Partner with Depression
Supporting a partner with depression can be hard, especially if you have never experienced the illness yourself. Here are some important tips for navigating this often difficult situation effectively.
Understanding the Symptoms of a Partner with Depression
Knowing the symptoms of this mental health condition can help you avoid rash judgments about your partner. For example, knowing that neglecting chores can be a symptom of depression will help you to avoid unfairly judging your partner for being "lazy." The symptoms of depression can vary greatly from person to person. Each individual may experience a different cluster of symptoms, a different number of symptoms and different severity of symptoms. These symptoms include but are not limited to:
- abnormal feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- change in eating habits, whether leading to weight loss or weight gain
- difficulty making decisions and starting actions
- difficulty concentrating and remembering
- fatigue and lack of energy
- loss of interest in one's regular hobbies and activities
- loss of interest in sex, or low libido
- neglecting personal hygiene
- neglecting responsibilities including work, chores and social life
- persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
- pessimism or hopelessness
- sleep disturbance, either too much or too little sleep
- somatic symptoms like headaches and digestive problems
- thoughts of suicide or other self-harm
These symptoms must be present across most days and situations for at least two weeks to be clinically considered depression. However, if symptoms are milder but are present most of the time for two years or more, this is indicative of the milder but more chronic version of depression known as dysthymia. It's best for your partner to consult with a medical or psychiatric professional about what diagnosis fits the best, as this determines treatment.
Why is My Partner Depressed?
Depression is a complicated mental health condition with many possible causes and risk factors. These can include:
- Physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Being abused can distort the way you think about yourself and the world, causing depression even if many years have passed since the abuse occurred.
- Interpersonal conflict. Arguments, fights or loss of friendship can easily affect mood and a sensitive person can develop depression as a result.
- Death and loss. Mourning and the sadness associated with it is a natural response to loss, but such an event can trigger depression beyond what is normal for mourning.
- Stress increases your risk of developing depression.
- Genetics influence how easily a person becomes depressed. Some people have a genetic predisposition for depression, even depression that has no other discernible cause.
- Other physical reasons such as hormonal imbalance or chronic illness.
It's important not to make any assumptions about why your partner is depressed, but rather to ask him or her what is going on. Remember that it is also normal to not know exactly why you're depressed, so you may not receive a definitive answer.
Avoid Judgment and Misconceptions
Be aware of the myths and misconceptions about depression in order to not fall prey to these ways of thinking. Common misunderstandings include thinking that depression is a sign of mental weakness and that one can simply "snap out of it." Judging your partner in these ways will make them feel misunderstood, which can lead to feeling more alone. If your partner is made to feel this way, he or she can become more depressed or take longer to recover from it.
Be a Safe Person to Talk To
Emotional and interpersonal support is one of the most effective ways to help a partner with depression. If you make sure that your partner views you as a safe person to come to with their troubles, they'll feel comfortable opening up and asking for what they need. Avoiding judgment is a cornerstone of being a safe source of support, but there is more to it. You should also show receptivity toward your depressed partner. Be a patient listener and don't turn your partner down when they want to talk about their problems.
Help Alleviate Their Daily Stress
Stress is usually one of the hallmarks of depression, and impacts overall health in many other negative ways. This illness is caused by stress, worsened by stress and creates more stress. Helping reduce daily stresses for your partner both gives them less to worry about and is a way to show the emotional support your partner with depression needs. Good ways to help alleviate stress for your partner include doing chores and running errands for them that they would normally do themselves.
Help Them Get the Help They Need
A very simple way to help your partner with depression is to ask them what they need and provide it for them. This may be something like running an errand for them, spending time with them, lending your ear or cooking dinner for them. However, there is only so much you can do as a significant other for someone with depression, especially the more severe the illness is. Support your partner in seeking out medication or talk therapy if they need it.
Be Patient with Your Partner
Remember that depression can be treatment-resistant, and even if eventually the illness is resolved, there can be a lot of trial and error in finding effective treatments, especially where medications are concerned. Remain patient and keep supporting your partner with depression throughout the course of treatment.