5 ways to help a partner with depression

These tips may help

Getty John Rensten

By Rick Sharpe

The statistics for depression and anxiety are disturbing. Depression, anxiety or a combination of both is affecting up to 17% of the population in the U.K. today. These numbers cause a significant strain on the NHS, they result in one fifth of missed days at workplaces and these conditions have huge effects on relationships. Living with a partner experiencing depression is emotionally challenging and our own behaviours can contribute to further enabling that depression or can help our partner deal with it in a positive way.

The following five suggestions can go a long way toward helping ease our partner’s depression and providing a healthy environment for management and recovery.

  1. Educate yourself

As a partner we tend to observe depressed behaviour without understanding why it is happening. We react negatively, most times out of frustration and a lack of knowledge. These reactions are not helpful and they reinforce the depressed state enabling it to spiral deeper. Educating ourselves about the effects of depression will enable us to build patience and compassion. We can understand how it affects our partner and how we can positively manage our own behaviour toward them. We can move away from a position of judgment and self-perpetuating stress to one of love and understanding.

  1. Listen

All too often when we are sitting with our partner trying to understand what they are experiencing, we try and provide solutions to their feelings of guilt and worthlessness, to their depressed mood or loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities. We lean toward judgment when we should be encouraging them not to judge themselves. We need to create the space for them to talk about what they are experiencing and truly be there for them.

Even silence is therapeutic as they can experience you just being there. Once they start communicating about what they are going through, their own understanding and healing can begin. They will verbalise their feelings and emotions to different people in different ways and learn from hearing their own words. These conversations open up empathic doors in others, which is relevant and healing on its own. The realisation that there are other people out there experiencing similar struggles or silently trying to manage their own results in the softening of their own feelings of being alone or being the only one suffering.

  1. Compassion (WE)

It’s OK to openly admit to our partner that we don’t fully understand what they are going through. We can create an approach of “we” rather than “you” when trying to find a way forward. It’s important to remain in the present and ask such things as “What do you need right now”, “I am here for you” and “How can we take the next steps together”. This kind of compassion creates a safe haven for your partner to communicate and really feel cared for. The mind is a very convincing and self-perpetuating device that can keep a person in a spiralling train of negative thought. The external influence of a compassionate approach will bring them closer to the surface or at the very least, stop the downward spiral.

  1. Unconditional love

Your partner will have many dark days of feeling unloved and alone. Loving unconditionally can go a long way to unraveling those negative feelings. It may seem that your efforts go unacknowledged but in reality, they do sink in and they are recognised over time. Make the effort on the little things you know they enjoy. Keep the “I love you” and “I am here for you” messages alive every day, even through your own moments of exhaustion and frustration. The smallest deeds of kindness and love do get through and they will sometimes be your partner’s only sign of hope during darker days.

  1. Seek help

The mind is very good at being distracted by negatives and has a bias towards negativity. Your partner may be 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. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) 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 behavioural problems.

In conclusion, living with a partner with depression is a long-term commitment. No one person has an endless reservoir of energy and patience. In an effort to support and help a partner along the road to recovery or at the very least, to manage their day-to-day life in a more positive and constructive way, the toll it can take on you can be emotionally draining. The well is not deep and the road can be long. Seek the support of local groups or friends and family. Engage and communicate with people in similar situations and the exchange of coping strategies will reinvigorate your own resolve.

 

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