Living with depression isn’t easy, so it should come as no surprise that loving someone with depression presents its own unique challenges. Here are five ways to love someone who has depression.
1. Recognize that depression is an illness, not an emotion
People with depression can win the lottery, meet the love of their life or score their dream job and still have depression. This is because depression is a biological illness. Depression doesn’t necessarily pop up because of a traumatic event or a bad childhood. It can happen literally at any time, no matter the external environment.
Recognizing that depression is a serious illness — as well letting your partner know that you recognize depression as a serious illness — is the most important thing you can do as a supportive partner. Although it’s tempting to think your loved one simply isn’t “trying hard enough” to be happy, remember that his or her brain physically cannot stop the negative thoughts.
2. Understand that you can’t fix the person
Because depression seems like an emotion rather than a disease, loving someone with depression can be difficult. The non-depressed partner might feel tempted to “cheer up” the person with the illness, perhaps by cooking a favorite meal or sharing a cute animal video. This will not work. Although it’s important to be kind to your partner, kindness and love are not enough to squash depression. The only person who can “fix” someone with depression is a trained medical professional.
3. Know that it’s not your fault
Sometimes, you will be afraid that your loved one’s depression is your fault. Your partner seems so happy and at ease while out in public, but when you’re alone, he or she breaks down. Are you making your partner depressed?
Often, people who are depressed are able to appear happy for strangers. They can hide their depression for several hours at a time and pretend that they are living a normal, healthy life … only to break down once they return home. If your loved one lets you see his or her depression symptoms, this means that he or she feels comfortable around you. People with depression do not need to make the effort to hide their illness when they’re with someone they love and trust.
4. Know the warning signs
People who live with major depression often experience periods of calm in which they can live relatively symptom-free lives. People with depression also experience “episodes” in which their symptoms are stronger than usual. Sometimes, it’s possible to predict the onset of an episode. When a potential episode looms on the horizon, it’s important to do what you can to prepare for it. Make sure to set up doctor’s appointments, refill medications and discuss an action plan with your significant other.
A common depressive episode trigger is life transitions. Some common life transitions include starting a relationship, marriage, having children and switching careers. Remember, depression isn’t only triggered by negative events — any transition can provoke a new episode.
5. Take care of yourself, too
Loving someone with depression isn’t always easy — in fact, it can be downright miserable. You will be tempted to hide these feelings from your significant other, especially since he or she is dealing with so much already. Resist the urge. You don’t need to outline your feelings in extreme detail, but you should let your partner know when things are difficult on your end.
Don’t feel like you need to dig yourself down into a hole of gloom, either. You are still allowed to experience happy thoughts when your significant other is distressed. Take care of yourself, and watch for symptoms of depression in your own life. There is no need to set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.
To learn more about depression and its impact on relationships, contact the Florida Mental Health Helpline at any time at 866-846-5588 to speak to someone who would be happy to help you or your loved one. To learn more about mental illness in relationships, look for more blogs in this “Love Matters” series.