Sharing your life with a partner who is struggling with depression and associated symptoms can lead you to feel helpless.
Major depression can manifest in changes in mood, communication, interest, eating patterns, sleep, suicidal thoughts, greater risk of anxiety, alcohol abuse, and substance abuse. All of these behaviors are painful to witness and can strain relationships.
In some cases, it can feel as though your partner has become a different person. To top things off, depressive symptoms often manifest in waves, producing an unpredictable pattern of good periods and bad days that keep coming.
Depression can truly take a toll on a relationship. However, remember that, as in many struggles, there is potential for it to allow you to grow closer and more connected through this tough time with communication, empathy, and care.
If the warning signs are there and your partner's symptoms or diagnosis spell out depression, there are many ways you can help him. Here are our top tips for supporting your boyfriend through this difficult time.
When he's caught in a depressive episode, your boyfriend may be feeling uniquely alienated, isolated, or hopeless. Our advice is to reach out to him during these times and let him know that you're there. Listening and aiming to understand what he feels from his perspective are crucial actions when it comes to supporting him.
You don't need to work in mental health to talk and extend empathy here. All you need to do is let him know that his experience is real and believed without harsh judgment.
Understand that depression is not just sadness. Likewise, mental illness isn't cured by telling the person suffering to cheer up, snap out of it, that something isn't such a big deal, or that they have nothing to be depressed about.
It is very likely that your boyfriend has already become intimately familiar with thoughts like the above through his own self-talk, where they do no good in helping him feel better. Avoid sounding dismissive, or worse, blaming him for his depressed mood.
There's no reason to make assumptions about what your boyfriend needs - actually asking him what kind of care would be valuable helps you avoid the pitfalls of miscommunication or feelings of rejection.
It may be that you have been going for your regular routine of a movie and a cuddle, but he's been longing for some warm drinks and a chat. Ultimately, everyone needs different types of care, and we can have blind spots even with people we know very well.
So ask your boyfriend what he needs and respect what he says. Don't take what he says here personally. If he describes a desire for a bit more alone time to process his feelings, offer this to him. There will generally be space for consensus and mutual support even if you both have quite disparate needs.
There is nothing groundbreaking about the idea that if a partner struggles with an illness, it is valuable to learn more about it, how they experience it, self-harm and suicide prevention, medications, and other treatment options.
Unfortunately, depression remains a very stigmatized condition, and it is very easy to accidentally become misinformed about it simply from the media. Take action to top up what you know already so that you can walk down this road with your boyfriend from a place of knowledge.
Depression is a treatable mental health condition, but many people avoid obtaining help due to internalized prejudices, lack of knowledge of their options, or effort.
If your depressed partner hasn't reached out to a therapist or other mental health professional yet, you can make a difference by helping him feel supported with the various steps involved. This might mean:
Receiving social support from friends, family members, and loved ones makes a difference in the speed and effectiveness of depression treatment. Don't be shy about being vocally and proactively supportive of your boyfriend's treatment if he is comfortable with your engagement.
Running background support while your partner is in treatment often means paying particular attention to the details of his life that complement his well-being.
Many aspects of a healthy lifestyle work as soft bulwarks against depression, so try to keep up a schedule that helps him eat and sleep well. Getting moving and going outdoors are both known to have mood-boosting qualities, so it may be helpful to start up a shared exercise schedule.
Individuals with depression can rapidly become isolated from the support network and activities they love. As this isolation can, in turn, cause depression, it is ideal to encourage socializing and hobbies, old and new. If you live together, try and keep stress and chaos to a minimum around the house for both of your sakes.
That's right; you're here too. Taking care of someone else can be exhausting for anyone, regardless of how healthy or connected the relationship is. Remember to maintain your boundaries during this time and not step back from any of your own mental health and self-care needs.
Take a break, take a breath, and check in with yourself. If you're feeling vicariously exhausted, frustrated, angry, hopeless, or burnt out, consider the possibility that therapy may be able to help you too.
Support groups exist for family members of people with all types of mental disorders. Couples therapy may also be able to provide some healing and insight into what you are feeling.
Not everything is actionable. Supporting a person with depression sometimes means understanding behaviors and thoughts that appear confusing or irrational. At this point, we'd like to cover a few more general ideas related to your relationship affected by depression.
It is not uncommon for people with depression to become hypersensitive to the effects of their feelings and behaviors on their friends and loved ones. They may feel initially reticent or disconnected, and they may frequently cancel or become distant in ways that make you feel rejected.
Stay patient with this, and continue reaching out to your boyfriend with invitations and plans - he'll be glad to know that he is still loved and wanted.
Depression weakens our ability to communicate normally and often leads to people experiencing emotional dysregulation. Because of this, your boyfriend with depression may be ruminating, overthinking, or misunderstanding what you say when you're talking.
When this happens, know that it is one of many symptoms of depression and that it is important for you to validate both of you when conflicts like this arise. Accept the misunderstanding, focus on "I" statements, and bring the conversation back to its original intent.
Depression is not anyone's fault, but we are all responsible for our own actions at the end of the day. Considering this, it is essential to keep in mind what you can actually affect.
Your partner is the primary agent in the path to accepting his diagnosis, understanding and setting boundaries to limit the consequences of his actions, and ultimately accessing treatment. You can help him along the way, but you will not be able to do it for him.
At GIA Miami, we understand the deep rifts that depression can create between our minds, bodies, and souls. We want you and your partner to have access to a life unaffected by depression. We offer in-house care supported by an expert team of specialists offering treatments including:
Contact us at (561) 462 - 4099 for more information about treatment for yourself or your loved one.
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