According to the World Health Organisation 350 million people worldwide experience some form of depression. That means you probably know at least one person are with depression. Also, chances are you will be in a relationship, living with, or married to a person with depression at some point in your life. It may sometimes feel as if their bad days outweigh the good. You may even blame yourself, wondering why you aren’t good enough to bring them happiness. However, this is not good for anybody. It will not help you support your partner.

It is important to identify the symptoms of depression. If your partner displays five or more of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, it is definitely worth having a calm chat about visiting the doctor. Symptoms of depression fall into two categories: psychological, and physical. The first step in supporting your partner through depression is learning about what they are going through. The most common symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to:

Psychological symptoms

  • Difficulty concentrating, poor memory and trouble making decisions

  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness

  • Feeling hopeless and pessimistic

  • Irritability and restlessness

  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed (including sex)

  • Feeling low

  • Thoughts of suicide

Physical symptoms

  • Lack of energy. Moving and speaking slower than usual

  • Insomnia or oversleeping

  • Changes in appetite, lack of appetite or overeating

  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems

  • Feeling overly tired

The majority of the above symptoms will affect their ability to do the things they normally do, so it is important to seek support if you think your partner may have depression. Men and women may display different symptoms of depression. Men, in particular, generally tend to find it harder to speak out and seek help due to the stigma of having a mental health condition. They may be worried about being seen as 'weak'. It is important to remind them that depression is a recognised medical condition as real as the flu or breaking a leg. The sooner we can help them, the easier it will be. It is so important to be aware of this and make sure the men in your life feel comfortable in speaking to you without feeling judged.

You may think there is only one type of depression, however that is not true. Understanding the different types of depression can allow you to recognise the symptoms in a loved one or even yourself.

The different types of depression include

  • Mild depression (has some impact on daily life)
  • Moderate depression (has a significant impact on daily life)
  • Severe depression (makes it almost impossible to cope on a daily basis)
  • Postnatal depression (depression developed after having a baby)
  • Seasonal affective disorder (seasonal depression, typically linked with Winter)
  • Bipolar disorder (Similar depression symptoms however with episodes of excessively high mood called 'mania')

The causes of depression

Those who have depression are likely to blame themselves for it. It is important to remember that it is not your fault or theirs that this happened. The causes of depression are many and can be very different from one person to the next. In some cases it can linked with low self-esteem, chronic pain, having an anxiety disorder, having relatives with depression, some medications, childhood abuse, abuse as an adult, chronic diseases, stresses at work, and life events (losing a loved one), or using drugs or alcohol excessively among many others. Depression can be triggered due to stress at work, in a relationship, with family, money worries, etc. Depression can be severe, but it is important to know that it is a treatable mental health condition, support is available. However, will not always go away by itself, and even if it eventually does it might take a very long time without treatment. It is important to seek professional support as soon as possible.

How can I help?

Encourage them to seek support if they haven’t yet done so. Many people with depression do not seek support due to many reasons, such as being in denial, worrying about being judged or simply lacking confidence to ask for help. Do not force anything, as this could make your loved one even more insecure. Think about how you would talk about going to the doctor to check out a really bad cold and use a similar approach. Have a non-judgemental, genuine conversation about why and how you want to help them.

Communication plays a huge part when supporting a loved one through depression. Talk to them about how they are feeling if they wish to discuss anything, but do not force them to talk. Depression is a sensitive subject and lots of people do not feel comfortable opening up straight away.

Encourage your partner to open up. Since communication does play a key part in understanding how your partner is feeling, it is a good idea to encourage them to talk about what is going on. This may take time. Offer words of encouragement such as 'I love you and I am here for you' or 'I know it cannot be easy so I apprecitate the effort you are making.'

Research ways you can help. No amount of research you do will allow you to fully understand how somebody with depression feels, but it will certainly help. Researching depression, reading some personal stories (from partners of individuals with depression), and looking into support services should give you an idea on how you can begin to help the person you love.

Remember, it is nothing personal. Some people with depression prefer to be left alone when they are going through an unusually bad day. This is not because they don’t love you or that you do not make them happy; it is just the way in which they prefer to cope. It is their battle and whichever way they feel most comfortable overcoming it, let them do it. That in itself is showing support. Those with depression may also respond in an angry tone, be resentful or feel guilty towards their spouses. Do not let this bring you down, it is the condition that is causing your partner to behave this way. Always bear that in mind.

Be there, but do not isolate yourself. Many people with depressive disorders prefer to have a small circle of friends or isolate themselves from others. Because of this they will not be as social as you may like. It is okay to spend nights in together if that is what you prefer. However, do not become isolated from your friends/family. Ensure you get out and socialise to maintain a healthy mind yourself.

You will NOT ‘cure’ your partner of their depression. A lot of the time, some partners go into a relationship assuming they can instantly cure their partner of their mental health disorder. Just as you cannot ‘cure’ someone with diabetes, just by making them happy; it is also not possible to cure your partner of depression by loving them (although it does help, just like it does with diabetes).

Depression is not something that should be considered a burden within a relationship. However understanding mental health conditions is not something that comes naturally to most people so it will require more patience and effort than understanding a broken leg. Life with depression is not easy and recovery can be a long, hard road. Never judge your partner and how they cope with their depression. If you have not been there, you cannot comprehend the intensity of the experience. All you can do is be there. Things will get better.

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