Supporting a depressed partner can take a significant toll on relationships and cause loved ones to feel helpless, confused, frustrated, or fearful. Depression is a serious mental health condition affecting millions of people worldwide each year and is characterised by persistent sadness and a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, amongst other symptoms. The good news is that depression can be treated, with loved ones playing a crucial role in recovery.
Below are some helpful tips on how to support your partner as they journey towards their recovery:
1. Educate yourself about depression
Take the time to educate yourself about depression by doing your own research or perhaps contacting organisations that may provide such information. By gaining a better insight into what is going on with your partner, you are in a better position to support them. It is also equally important to understand that your partner might require a level of care that you may not be able to provide. Therefore, it is important to know your limits and encourage them to seek out professional support.
2. Validate their feelings
It may feel tempting to tell your partner to cheer up or remind them of all the good things they have in their life. Although this may be done with the best of intentions, it is important to remember that depression is not something the person can easily recover from. Such comments are, therefore, likely to make your partner feel more guilty and invalidated. Instead, try to acknowledge and be present with their feelings by saying things such as, “I can’t imagine how difficult it must feel for you” or gently ask them how they would like to be helped. It is okay to not have any solutions.
3. Celebrate every “little” win
For someone going through depression, doing everyday tasks can feel overwhelming. Therefore, if your partner manages to do things like cooking dinner, or doing the dishes, let them know they did a great job without sounding patronising. You may also want to offer to help with certain tasks which they might feel more able to do with your support.
4. Keep doing the things you both enjoy
It is important to remember and remind your partner that their depression does not define them and that they have other roles and interests. Staying active and engaging in physical exercise is a significant aspect of recovery as they promote the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. You may want to suggest fun outdoor activities, such as going for a walk, a swim, a bike ride, or a picnic in nature. Encourage them without pushing too much if they decline to join, else consider adjusting your ideas to fit with what they need on that day.
5. Intimacy issues
Depression can cause people to become emotionally and physically withdrawn. They may experience a lower sex drive which may be a symptom of depression and sometimes the result of antidepressant medication. Remember that this is not something personal but a reflection of their emotional struggles. You may try to encourage intimacy and stay physically connected with gestures of love and affection such as holding hands on walks, cuddling, or sending loving text messages.
6. Remember to take care of yourself
Supporting a depressed partner is often tiring, so do not forget to look after yourself and ask for support when needed. Ultimately, you are unlikely to feel able to support them if you are not feeling okay yourself. Self-care activities may include: staying connected to family and friends, adhering to good nutrition and sleep hygiene, regular physical exercise, journaling or talking about your feelings with a trusted family member, friend, or therapist.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Dr. Ronald Zammit holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Southampton, has completed Master’s level psychotherapy training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the New Buckinghamshire University in the UK, as well as received training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). He has a special interest in mood and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related difficulties, personality disorders, and compassion-based approaches to treating difficulties related to high self-criticism and shame.