Helping a Loved One With Depression
by Sharan Kaur
Depression can be an isolating experience for the person suffering and their loved ones. Some of the symptoms of depression include persistent feelings of sadness, anger and hopelessness. They may lose enjoyment in the things they used to love, including hobbies and relationships.
Watching your loved one struggle with depression can be challenging. These factors can make you feel confused, helpless or ignored. You may question if your partner still loves you or if they are the same person you feel in love with. You may feel that it is your fault or that you aren’t doing enough.
All of these elements can make it difficult for you to know how to support your loved one. While you can’t cure your partner’s depression, you can help them on the road to recovery.
If your partner is diagnosed and undergoing treatment…
Take an interest in your partner’s progress. Be available to take them to their appointments. Never insist on sitting in unless your partner or their therapist invites you. Always be positive about participating in their depression treatment. Remind them to take their medication (if prescribed).
Understand your partner’s need for confidentiality. Ask them how the session went and be willing to listen without judgment. However, if your partner is not ready or willing to share, tell them you absolutely respect their decision and are happy to support them in any way you can. Do not make negative remarks or be passive aggressive if they are not willing to share. E.g., “I’m sure you are complaining about me” or “What secrets are you keeping from me?”
Ask your partner what you can do to help them with their depression. This offer should be made in various ways and various times. E.g., “Would you like to talk about it?” “What activities would you like us to pursue?” “Can you help me to understand what you feel?”
Respect your partner’s alone time. When dealing with depression, your partner may need time for self-reflection. Give your partner the emotional and physical space to do so.
If your partner is not diagnosed and showing symptoms of depression, but is unwilling unable to seek professional support…
Firstly, encourage them to speak to a therapist. Do not pressure them and be judgmental.
Share your thoughts and concerns with your partner. It’s important to come from a place of care and concern, even if your partner is being antagonistic or resistant. Being patient and calm can make all the difference.
Express your desire to help them to find treatment options for their depression. This can include therapy, medication and lifestyle modification.
This may sounds like: “It hurts me to see you in pain. I want to help. Speaking to a professional may be able to help you in a way that I can’t. Let me know when you’re ready and I can help you to make the appointment.”
What not to do when helping your partner with depression…
Do not ask questions that may seem judgmental or put the blame on the person. E.g., “Why are you making such a big deal about this?” “Why are you so weak/lazy etc.?”
Avoid trivializing the condition. E.g., “Other people have it worst than you.” “Why can’t you snap out of it?”
Don’t make it about yourself. E.g., “Why don’t I make you happy?”
Take care of yourself
Supporting a partner going through depression can be emotionally and physically tiring. You may feel drained, frustrated and frightened.
People suffering from depression will have good days and bad days. If you are going to support them through their ups and downs, you need to manage your expectations about their recovery.
Make sure that you savour your own alone time. Have a look at our self-care rituals to keep your physically, mentally and emotional healthy. This will help you to hold space for your partner with depression without compromising your mental health.
Sharan Kaur is a relationship counsellor at The Mind Faculty, a private mental health clinic in Kuala Lumpur offering psychiatric, psychological and counselling services. She helps individuals and couples navigate mental health challenges, as well as teaches them how to best support a loved one going through depression.