Going through depression is hard enough on it’s own without the crushing guilt that comes along with potentially trashing your relationship.
Combined with the fact that serious depression is difficult to comprehend without having actually experienced it yourself— it can lead to a perfect storm of relationship damaging behavior both from the person who is going through it and their partner who in an attempt to help, just can’t seem to do or say the right thing.
So what do you do if your partner seems like they might be spiraling?
1. Recognize the signs of depression in the first place and consider if you or your loved one might be experiencing them.
The classic signs of depression are:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
They might not come right out and say anything is wrong since most people don’t want to admit that it’s happening– even to themselves.
2. Be non-accusatory and consider your own attitude first.
Understand that depression is not a choice, a moral failing or a personal affront to you.
Let that sink in for a second.
Repeat after me: depression is not a choice.
It isn’t a ploy for attention or something that they’re “doing.” It’s an under-addressed, serious illness that affects every area of someone’s life. Our culture tends to treat it like a moral failing— like if sufferers would just “buck up” it would solve everything. This is wrong thinking and contributes to the epidemic of quiet desperation in our society.
Because of this, there is a huge personal pride aspect to contend with. Usually it’s extremely difficult for sufferers to even admit that there is a problem— so don’t try to force anything.
It’s not just “the blues,” it can come without warning, and it’s brutal. Trust. If you happen to think it’s “no big deal,” be prepared to STFU or get schooled on exactly how much more miserable you can make your lover. Take it seriously and avoid being flippant at all costs.
3. Don’t try to cheer them up or reason them out of it.
If logical thinking was an anti-depressant, no one would be depressed.
Don’t offer reasons why they shouldn’t be depressed. Your brilliant solutions will only serve to depress them further and disconnect them from your relationship.
If you don’t get what they are going through or why, it’s better to just offer your caring and support rather than trying to “fix it.”
If they had the presence of mind to explain it to you– your partner WISHES it was as simple as implementing whatever solution you can come up with. They don’t want to brainstorm “ideas to fix it” either.
For your relationship with them to have a chance at all, you have to leave therapy to actual therapists.
The more you bumble around and try to save them or fix what they’re going through, the more they are likely to become angry with you, withdraw further and feel even more lonely and misunderstood. You will push them away if you do this, which is dangerous for them and your relationship.
4. Help, help and help some more.
Subtly suggest seeing someone with the intention to get them professional help if they aren’t getting it already.
By subtly, I mean saying something like, “I’ve noticed that you’ve seemed down a lot lately. Maybe we should go see someone. I found this really good recommendation.”
Using “we” makes it seem non-accusatory and gets your foot in the door— on the way to getting their buy-in. This little turn of phase from “you” to “we” lets them save face, and right now they need that. By saying “we,” do NOT imply you are going to go to couple’s therapy or even remotely suggest that. The idea is to help them save face. Going to counseling together with them will backfire, since if they are in fact clinically depressed, your relationship with them has to take a back seat right now to helping them get their health back. Couple’s therapy will most likely go badly. Don’t do it right now.