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More PsychNotes: Depression

May 23, 2017       

When You Love Someone With Depression
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Depression is Not Sadness

Unfortunately, clinical depression causes the deterioration of many relationships. The spouse or partner either doesn't understand the depression or tries to compensate but gets overwhelmed by their partner's hopelessness. This can lead to conflict or withdrawal which can exacerbate the depression because of the additional layer of grief.

If you love someone who has depression, there are a number of ways you can be helpful:

1) Recognize depression as an illness. Too often others see depression as a weakness. They think of it as the person with depression is unable to cope with everyday problems that everyone else seems to manage. However, depression is NOT an emotional problem due to the inability to face life stresses. On the contrary, the person with depression has to manage a very serious illness while trying to manage life's problems as well. Although many people give lip service to the idea of depression as a physical illness, it is important to thoroughly understand what this means. To further understand, read: Depression is Not Sadness.

2) See your loved one's strength. Once you understand that depression is a physical illness, it can allow you to view your loved one as strong rather than weak. Dealing with this illness can take a tremendous amount of effort because part of the problem is lack of energy. Think about how you feel when you have to do something while you are sick with a cold. You may be able to do it but only with a great deal of effort. Then, imagine that is what every day of your life is like. By understanding this you can develop greater compassion for your loved one's daily experience of depression and the strength it takes to face each day.

3) Help your loved one understand. Too often people with depression feel weak and blamed for having depression. You are in a position to help them understand depression as an illness rather than a weakness. The more your loved one understands this concept, the more he or she can fight the irrational beliefs of self-blame and weakness. The stigma of depression only makes it worse because not only do they have to fight the depression but also the inaccurate beliefs of others and the grief of feeling less than everyone else. For more, read: 5 Common Microaggressions Against Those With Mental Illness

4) Support and encourage. Supporting someone doesn't mean you need to accept a hopeless outcome. The more you understand the depression, the more you can help your loved one. You can help by finding and supporting treatment options. Also, how you encourage your loved one can make a difference in their ability to persist in the struggle with depression. For ideas on how to talk to your loved one, read or listen to: Depression Assistance.

5) Take care of yourself. When you are faced with stressful events, it is important to take care of yourself or you can become overwhelmed by the situation. Engage in activities that are stress-relievers for you whether that is exercise, socializing, or relaxation. Be sure that you have support. If necessary, it may be helpful to obtain therapy for yourself to help you cope with the situation.

6) May need to be tough. But do so with understanding, compassion and kindness. When the depression affects you and your family, you may need to be tough on certain things such as when your loved one refuses treatment or does not engage in treatment recommendations. For more information, read: When Your Loved One Refuses Help.

7) Practice with your loved one. It is generally easier to do something with a partner. So instead of telling your loved one to get more exercise, go for a walk together. Doing relaxation or mindfulness together can benefit both of you since coping with the depression is stressful for you both. Excel At Life provides many relaxation audios.

8) Attend therapy. You don't need to attend every session but be involved. The more you understand about the depression and what your partner needs, the more you can be helpful. And don't be defensive. If you have behaviors that impact your loved one, be willing to address them. This not only helps by reducing conflict or other problems, but you are also modeling that it is okay to recognize problems and address them. For more, read: How to Interfere with Therapy When Your Loved One Has Anxiety or Depression.

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