Living with someone who is depressed can be really tough. You may feel confused, feel as if you can’t say anything right. You want to help but you don’t know what to do. You may even have got to the stage where you’re thinking there’s no point in carrying on and that you should leave.
If your partner is depressed they’ll have bad days and sometimes they’ll have really bad days, days when they feel as if they’re alone at the bottom of a big dark pit and there’s no way to escape. And when someone’s going through this kind of experience they’re not easy to be around. Yet your partner really does want and appreciate your support - even if they don’t show it.
The following tips are tried and tested strategies that will help you cope and also help you support your partner.
1. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.
It’s important you look after your own mental health. Take time for yourself, exercise, meet friends for coffee, whatever you need to do to recharge your batteries.
2. Let them know you are there for them - and be patient.
Sit with them. Tell them they are important to you, ask them what you can do to help. Small acts such as taking out the rubbish or doing the shopping will mean more than you might imagine.
3. Don’t judge or criticise.
What you say can have a powerful impact on your partner. Try to avoid say things like, ‘it’s not that bad, stop exaggerating’, ‘your glass is always half empty you need to be more positive’. These kinds of statements are likely to make your partner feel more isolated. They didn’t chose to be depressed - if they could feel more positive they would.
4. Don’t offer advice.
Whenever someone we care about is suffering we want to help them, we don’t want to see them in pain. As a result, it may feel natural to make suggestions or to give advice. This can make your partner feel inadequate, it can also make them feel like you really don’t get what’s going on for them. Try not to make assumptions, ask your partner what they need, how you can help.
5. Avoid ultimatums
There may be times when you feel so frustrated that you’ve thought about giving your partner an ultimatum. Surely telling them you’ll leave if they don’t change will mean they sort themselves out? This is more likely to hurt your partner and mean they try to hide how they are feeling rather than deal with it. It could also make them feel even more isolated and cause them to withdraw.
6. Learn as much as you can about depression.
You may not be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, however, you can get an idea of what they might be going through by learning more about depression. Reading up on the subject will help.
7. Agree what to do
If you can, talk to your partner when they are not depressed and agree what you should do when they are starting to feel low and also when things get really bad. Do they need space to be left alone? Do they want company? Do they want to be taken to see a doctor or a therapist?
Living with someone who’s depressed can feel like you’re walking along a tight rope. What do I say? What do I not say? What do I do? What do I not do?
Just being there and asking what they need may be enough to get you both through.
Jacquie Hampton is a counsellor and psychotherapist. You can find out more about her at www.jacquiehampton.co.uk.