Help! My partner has depression and I feel like I’m catching it
The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
Depression is a mental illness that affects 1 in 5 people. I was recently told by a health professional that 80% of people who are taking anti-depressants don’t need to be. Just because our circumstances are causing us to feel deeply depressed, does not necessarily mean that we have a chemical imbalance or that anti-depressants will help our situation – but perhaps talking to a good psychologist will!
The problem with people who are particularly sensitive and openly empathetic is that if their partner suffers from depression, they will find themselves being dragged down with their emotions. Unless you have had depression or have a partner who has depression, it is very difficult to understand just how much someone can bring you down – no matter how happy you are. It’s contagious – like catching a cold: One gets it, the other gets it and you can actually pass it between each other for some time … until you break the cycle.
Recently someone I was very, very close to told me they were contemplating ending their life. I have never been in that situation before. Apart from worry myself sick at work (meanwhile my performance slipped a little), I was texting the person every ten minutes to see they were ok (and let them know I was still there for them – in case they had forgotten since my last text message), and I offered the Lifeline number in case they needed someone and I was not available due to a work meeting. Ultimately though, I had NO idea what to do. It wasn’t long after that I started feeling depressed as well.
So this week Happiness Weekly looks at what you can do if someone you’re close to, such as your partner, is depressed and how you can help AND still stay on top of things in your own world.
If someone has the power to bring you down, you have the power to bring them back up!
When someone is down, it’s very easy to feel down about your world with them, but if you remain positive and constructive in your discussions with them, then you provide the opportunity to bring them back up and leveraging off their perspective, you could also expand your view on things. Be careful on overdoing this one – many caring people will do it, there is always a time to walk away. When it continually brings you down, that’s your red flag that you and your partner need space.
Don’t lose sight of yourself
You partner may make some rash decisions and have very irrational thought processes – you will need to be very patient with them. In the meantime, it’s very important that you don’t lose sight of who you are. They may say things to you that will bring you down – don’t take it personally. By knowing who you are, maintaining your integrity and being confident in yourself, you will be in a great position to step out of any negative criticism from your partner.
Get help for yourself and seek strategies on how best to support the person
There is no shame in seeking counselling and advice for yourself. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to see someone and ask for some strategies on how you can best support this person, especially if it is someone you really love and care for. A good counsellor will also talk you through some strategies on how you can best care for yourself in your situation as well.
Do not feel guilty
It is very , very difficult – particularly if your partner is lashing out and blaming you, not to feel guilty for the way things are going. There may be frequent arguments as the person’s irrational mindset takes over. It’s really important that you do not feel guilty, as soon as guilt takes over your mindset will change and you will be in no position to support the person you are caring for because you’ll start finding yourself dragged down with them.
Put yourself in their shoes
Reassure your partner that they are doing the best they can in their situation and that any ideas you have are only suggestions. Do not force the person to participate in anything they don’t want to. It will feel like an empty victory if they do one of your suggestions begrudgingly anyway. Practice some acceptance and know when you need to step back a little in order not to get hurt.
Make them see that they are responsible and in control of their moods
This is an important point because it empowers the person as well as shifting the responsibility back from you and onto them. When they become moody for no apparent reason, it’s ok to try to help them solve their problem, but it’s also important that you tell the person that their mood is affecting you and how you would prefer they respond to you.
Ask them their thoughts and help them challenge them
Deep down everyone has the answers for what they’re looking for. If you can talk to the person and make recommendations from your heart – it comes more easily if you genuinely care about the person – then you will be able to lead them in the right direction. A good way to challenge a depressed partner is to ask them to try something different. If they take your advice and/or try something new, it will not only make you feel good when they do but it will feel rewarding if they also say thank you.
Get help together
A depressed partner is not easy to look after and no one expects you to do it all on your own. If they won’t get help on their own (which many won’t), then ask if they will be open to seeking help with you and see if you can book an appointment with a good psychologist together. Another alternative for getting help together, if things get really out of hand, is involving other family members (parents, siblings or extended family members) in their life in the situation. You are not dobbing the person in, but actually protecting them, by helping them to get the appropriate care they need.
Offer other suggestions
Sometimes when we’re depressed we can’t see our options clearly. This is where you can step up and after hearing and seeing your partner’s limited views in their situation that feels entirely helpless to them and offer some suggestions for how they could move forward. Don’t forget to put it in bite-size pieces that is easy to follow. If you make it sound all too easy and as though you’d find it easy in their situation, you could cause further tension and distress to your partner.
Keep being positive – don’t give up!
The best way to be positive and ensure your partner remains positive in their situation is to make positive suggestions going forward. It may be coming up with a great date idea, thinking of alternative positive solutions to the problem or being forward thinking about the situation and making some positive moves before anything else gets out of hand. Whatever it is, staying positive may sometimes feel exhausting but it will at least make you feel better if not encourage a smile on your partner’s face as well.