Emily Dickinson described it as “a funeral in my brain.” Still others described it as “a slower way of being dead” and “the weight of your body feels heavier than it actually is.” The truth about depression is that it is an illness. It is not a choice! The statistics are staggering. Depression, anxiety or a combination of both is a!ecting up to 17% of the population in the U.K. That is only what we know about. There are millions more out there who still struggle in silence because of the fear of judgment and shame associated with depression. When we are involved with a partner who exhibits signs of depression, the toll it can take on our relationship can be a heavy one. We ourselves often enable the condition in a negative way through our own behaviors and words because we don’t understand. Providing a healthy environment for management and recovery can go a long way toward helping ease our partner’s depression. Here are five ways to help if your partner has depression:
Identify with your partner. Create a space, which is a ‘WE’ approach to finding a way forward. This will take away the focus on the individual and provide a foundation for compassion. It is very OK to admit that we do not fully understand what they are going through. Once we have established that we are in this together, we can generate conversations with, “what do you need right now?” “I am here for you” and “we will get through this together.” Creating a safe haven for honest communication can make them feel really cared for. Our thoughts are not who we are, but they can be self perpetuating while keeping a person in a spiraling trail of negativity. Compassion can help arrest that downward spiral and bring them closer to the surface.
There is no way out of depression without talking about it. Too many suffer in silence and when they get up the courage to speak out we need to listen. We
don’t need to provide solutions for their feelings of guilt and worthlessness or come with a ‘plan’ when they have lost interest in activities that were previously pleasurable for them. We can avoid judgment and encourage them not to judge themselves. Encourage them to talk about whatever they are experiencing at that moment and truly listen. Silence can be very uncomfortable for some people however just silently being there for our partner can be therapeutic on its own.
Communication will help them understand what they are experiencing and provide the space for healing to begin. Partners can actually learn from hearing their own words and in how they verbalize their story to deferent people. Once the conversations become more frequent, it will open up empathic doors in others that can be relevant and healing on its own. There are many out there experiencing similar journeys and feeling that one is not alone in their suffering can be a truly eye-opening realization.
When we are struggling with a partner with depression it is in part because we don’t understand why it is happening. We lean toward frustration that can lead to negative behaviour. We become disconnected at a time when our partner needs us most. This withdrawal can reinforce the depressed state and fuel a further spiral. Educating ourselves
about the symptoms and effects of depression creates patience and compassion. Once we understand how this illness a!ects our partner we can manage our own behaviour in a more empathic way. We can move away from a position of judgment and self-perpetuating stress to one of love and understanding.
Partners dealing with depression often have days where they feel unloved and alone. When we love unconditionally, it helps to unravel those negative feelings. There will be many days when our efforts will seem like they are not acknowledged when in reality they are recognized over time. The key is to have patience and be consistent in our own behaviour. Make the effort on the little things we know they enjoy. Even through our own moments of exhaustion and frustration keep the “I love you” and “I am here for you” messages alive every day. The smallest deeds of kindness and love do get through and they will sometimes be our partner’s only sign of hope during darker days.
The human brain has a definite bias towards negativity. We are hardwired for it and it is deeply ingrained from thousands of years ago when our very survival depended on it. We will experience times when our partner is caught up in exaggerating the negative, making assumptions about what others are feeling and thinking, expecting the worst, having unreasonable expectations and constantly blaming themselves. Clinical and long term depression needs a different level of treatment and that may mean approaching our partner to seek the help they really need. One avenue we can explore is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This program is clinically proven (28 studies involving 1231 people) to provide positive results with improved quality of life, depression, anxiety and coping styles. Mindfulness decreases the power of negative thinking and emotions.
It is successful in breaking the association between negative mood and negative thinking that would trigger behavioral problems. Living with a partner with depression is a long-term commitment. We as humans do not have an endless reservoir of energy and patience. In an effort to support and help our partner along the road to recovery
the toll it can take on us can be emotionally draining. Most times we are looking at a long road ahead of us and it can be beneficial to seek out local support groups. We can engage with people in similar situations and the exchange of coping strategies can reinvigorate our own resolve.