If your spouse, significant other, or partner suffers with depression, you may feel helpless, but there are ways you can support them and you are not alone.
The mood in major depression is often described as sad, hopeless, discouraged, or feeling down, but it can also include persistent anger. Family members notice that depressed people seem not to care about finding joy anymore.
It can be difficult to know how to help a depressed partner, but your support is important. You can’t cure your partner’s depression, but you can help you partner along the road to recovery.
Learn about Depression
An important first step in helping your partner is to understand that mental health and depression is a real thing. Symptoms of depression can vary, and can change over time. The best way to understand how your partner experiences depression is to ask open-ended questions and use empathic listening.
Depression can include the following symptoms:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, or hopelessness
- Changes in appetite (including weight gain or loss)
- Sleep disturbance (sleeping too much or too little)
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Fatigue (even small tasks can require extra time)
- Anxiety or agitation
- Anger outbursts
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt (including ruminating on past events)
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Frequent thoughts of death, including suicidal thoughts
- Unexplained physical symptoms
Supporting Your Partner
You can facilitate improvement and recovery by providing support and encouragement. Here are some tips that might help:
- Encourage treatment.
- Show positive reinforcement of healthy behavior, rather than criticizing irrational fear, avoidance, or rituals.
- Measure progress on the basis of individual improvement, not against some absolute standard.
- Help set specific goals that are realistic and can be approached one step at a time.
- Don’t assume you know what your partner needs. Ask how you can help. Listen carefully to the response.
- Acknowledge that you don’t understand the experience of depression or anxiety.
- Understand that knowing when to be patient and when to push can be challenging. Achieving a proper balance often requires trial and error.
Recovery requires hard work on the part of the person with depression and patience on the part of the partner and family. It may seem like a slow process, but the rewards are well worth it.
Here are more helpful ways to support your partner suffering from depression:
Be there for them.
You don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay, but what you can do is sit and listen and simply show up for them. You can hold your partner’s hand, offer hugs, and be present. You can respond with encouraging statements:
- “I am here for you.”
- “We will get through this together.”
All too often, people feel that they just have to just snap out of it or they will just get better on their own, but depression usually doesn’t improve without professional treatment. You can help your partner by encouraging treatment and being there during appointments.
Help your partner consider getting treatment by doing the following:
- Express your concern.
- Express your willingness to help, including making and preparing for appointments.
- Discuss what you’ve learned about depression.
- Talk about treatment options, including mental therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
- Help your partner stick with treatment. Whenever possible, drive to appointments together and sit in the car or waiting room.
Create a supportive home environment.
It’s important to remember that your partner’s depression isn’t your fault and you can’t fix it. But you can help them by providing as much helpful support as possible. Changes in lifestyle can help make a difference during the treatment and recovery process. Because depression can interfere with a person’s energy and affect both sleep and appetite, you can help by:
- Focus on healthy eating. Get your partner involved in planning and cooking healthy meals together to encourage better food choices.
- Exercise together. Daily exercise can boost your mood. Plan a daily walk or bike ride to inspire getting back to exercise.
- Make plans together and try and enjoy fun things you both love to do together like renting a new movie, playing a board game, or going on a hike.
- Give positive reinforcement. Be sure to point out strengths and areas of improvement to help your partner see progress.
- Help focus on small goals and acknowledge daily achievements.
Know the warning signs of suicide
The risk of suicide is always elevated during major depressive disorder. It’s important to know the red flags and get immediate medical assistance:
- Talking about suicide
- Getting a means to attempt suicide, such as purchasing a gun or stockpiling pills
- Extreme mood swings – very high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- Social withdrawal
- Preoccupied with thoughts of death
- Noticeable changes in normal daily routines
- Feeling overwhelmed with hopelessness
- Engaging in risky or self-destructive behavior, including drug or alcohol abuse or reckless driving
- Giving away belongings
- Saying goodbye
- Getting affairs in order
- Developing personality changes
Remember to help yourself as well.
Caring for a partner with depression can be emotionally draining. It’s important to practice self-care and increase your own support during this time. It is extremely important (and not selfish) for partners of those with a depression to take care of themselves. These tips will help you cope:
- Don’t give up your own life and interests. Engage in your outside interests and hobbies for a break from the stresses of your daily life.
- Maintain a support system. Having friends and family to confide in ways your partner cannot is important for your overall emotion well being.
- Seek professional help for yourself, if needed. The recovery process can be stressful for partners of those struggling with mental health illnesses. Your well-being is just as important as your partner’s. If you need someone to talk to, or if you think you may be suffering from symptoms of anxiety or depression, contact your doctor or consider visiting a mental health professional or joining a community group.
HOPE is Here.
As a reminder, you never have to suffer alone. There are resources available for you.
Georgia HOPE specializes in providing quality mental health services for individuals, families and couples in the state of Georgia. To learn more, enroll, refer someone, or start services with us, contact us below:
- Call: 706-279-0405 Ext. 149
- Text: 706-847-4871
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Visit: GaHOPE.org
- Contact Us Online
- Enroll / Refer
Other Resources Available:
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Georgia Crisis & Access Line: 1-800-715-4225
- GMHCN Warm Line: 888-945-1414
- CARES: 844-326-5400, Call or Text 8:30AM-11:00PM for Substance Use Crisis Text Line: 741-741