Being in a relationship with someone who has mental health issues can be a challenge if you’re not familiar with it. While your partner is suffering, what are you supposed to do? What actions can you take to show your support? It’s important to remember that depression manifests in different ways. Not everyone who has depression will find these things helpful. While these tips aren’t one size fits all, they may allow you to help alleviate depression in your partner.
Talk to your partner about it. Since everyone who has depression is unique, it is logical to assume that not everything will help every person with depression. Try to get your partner to talk about the actions that they find soothing. Do they want to be left alone? Do they want to talk? Or is it helpful to just be in the same room as your partner? It’s important to let your partner with depression guide you on what they need in order for you to help.
Get educated. Education is everything. Read books and articles. Learn about the science of depression. If your partner agrees, talk to their doctor. If your partner is on medication for their depression, learn as much about the medications they take as you can. Each medication has different side effects. Sometimes when someone is depressed, they may not recognize a side effect but you can. This is one of the very best ways you can help a partner with depression.
Never tell them they shouldn’t feel a certain way. Feelings are real and when someone is told they shouldn’t feel a specific way it invalidates what they’re going through. Instead, talk to them about their feelings and what makes them feel the way they do. Have empathy. Try to remember feeling the way they feel.
Don’t blame them. Someone with depression is often at the mercy of the chemicals in their brain. Sometimes there are things you can do about getting more serotonin or dopamine, but the depression itself makes it difficult to take action. If you place blame on your partner, telling them they just need to eat better, drink more water, or get some exercise, it will just make them feel worse. Eventually, resentment will build up.
Encourage treatment. Depression doesn’t usually go away on its own. If it lasts for more than a couple of weeks at a time and happens every month, it’s usually necessary to get treatment. Treatment can include a variety of things from seeing a mental health professional to taking medications. No one treatment is “right.” Most people use a combination of treatments. Talking to a doctor is the first step though.
Help them set small goals. Having too many things that you need to do can be overwhelming for anyone with a mental health condition. Instead, help them choose one or two goals at a time to work on. Give them lots of praise when they do them. Ask them how you can best help them reach their goals. Do they want you to remind them or would they rather that you set visual cues for them (like putting their medications on the counter in the kitchen so they remember to take them in the morning).
Be ready to re-evaluate how you support them. Sometimes, someone with depression might not know how they need support. They might think that daily reminders from you will be a good thing but after a few days, those reminders just build up pressure. If that’s the case, make sure your partner knows it is OK to take a step back and re-evaluate how they want to be supported.
Help them create a low-stress environment. That can mean playing soothing music in the background, keeping clutter to a minimum, having health stress food to eat, or sticking to a schedule. A low-stress environment can be good for you, too. Routines and a calm environment can be very helpful to a person with depression.
Take care of yourself first. Many people who have a partner with depression forget to take care of themselves. You can’t take care of anyone else if your emotional cup is empty. This is absolutely essential. You are not responsible for your partner’s depression. Ultimately, they are the only ones who can manage their depression. The only person you can fully be responsible for is yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat properly, and get daily exercise. Sometimes, if your partner has severe depression, seeing a therapist can be a good step for you to take for yourself too.
Sometimes just being there is enough. A partner with depression may fear losing you. Reassure them that you are there for them. Give them the time they need. But give them space to work things out as they need it. You don’t have to suffocate someone to be there for them.