Depression, especially high-functioning depression, often goes unrecognized, unseen and undiagnosed.
But if you’re in a relationship with someone suffering from depression, you see that person at their most vulnerable and know just how heavy their burden is every day. What’s the best way to support a partner dealing with depression and encourage them to get treatment? Below, therapists share eight small but meaningful things you can start doing.
1. Adjust your expectations.
When you’re depressed, even dragging yourself out of bed in the morning can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Recognize that your partner’s energy levels are at an all-time low, and cut them a break if they seem absolutely disinterested in doing household chores.
“Unless you have been depressed yourself, it’s difficult to understand this utter lack of motivation,” said Amanda Deverich, a marriage and family therapist in Williamsburg, Virginia. “Criticizing will compound the helpless feeling of depression, not motivate. Depression can take time, and steps forward are small. Focus your energies on supporting your partner productively. Now is the time to be patient.”
You might be willing to move mountains for your partner, but there’s no way you can single-handedly “fix” their problems, especially something as serious as depression. What you can do is continue to be a safe sounding board for them when they’re riding out their highs and lows, said Ryan Howes, a psychologist from Pasadena, California.
“One of the most helpful things you can do is to simply listen,” he said. “Ask how they’re feeling or what they’ve been thinking about and sit back to listen without judgement.”
Be patient if they don’t want to delve too deeply into their feelings and never press them to be more forthcoming, Howes advised.
“One of the main symptoms of depression is decreased energy, so it may take a little time and effort for them to articulate their thoughts,” he said. “If they can vent some feelings, that alone will be a valuable exercise. Try to avoid giving them answers or a list of things to do unless they ask for it, and just try to empathize.”
3. Get outside.
Nature can’t replace a prescribed depression treatment plan, but a stroll around the park or a hike could boost your partner’s mood, said Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling for men. (Hopefully you catch a lot of sun while you’re out; low vitamin D levels have been linked to depression, particularly seasonal affective disorder, which is experienced in the winter months when there’s less sunlight.)
“Your plan to go out doesn’t have to be elaborate,” Smith said. “Get them to move or go for a walk or some other activity they usually enjoy. You’re likely to get some resistance, so be prepared to be persistent.”
4. Help make the search for a therapist easier.
You may pride yourself on being a great listener, but you can’t offer the kind of frank, objective advice a professional can.
It’s essential to find a qualified therapist, but Howes said that search can be overwhelming ― especially if you’re dealing with depression. That’s where you come in: Find a few experts, then share your research with your partner.
“To get your search started, I’d recommend a therapist finder website like Psychology Today or GoodTherapy and start narrowing down the list by location, cost/insurance, a focus on depression, the preferred gender (if that applies), treatment approaches and help them find the best two to three possible matches,” Howes said.
Last modified: March 7, 2018