While it’s not the same as personally battling depression, dating someone who suffers from depression can be challenging in its own ways. It can be hard to see someone you love and care deeply for feeling so blue, and it can be especially hard to feel like nothing you can do will cheer them up.
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But there are things you can do in your role as a partner for someone battling depression that can help and make a real difference…or that at least won’t make things any harder for them. We’ve paired tips from professional relationship experts along with some insightful tidbits from a popular Ask Reddit thread on advice that nonprofessionals also keep in mind in order to actually help support someone with depression.
This is what the professionals say:
1. Listen before responding.
“Active listening is extremely important,” explains Keisha Blair, best-selling author of Holistic Wealth: 32 Life Lessons to Help You Find Purpose, Prosperity and Happiness.
2. Make sure you’re creating an environment that’s free of judgment.
“Encourage her to express her feelings [in an environment] without fear of judgment or unhelpful comments,” says Blair.
3. Give her space as needed.
Of course you want to support your partner and surround them with love, care, and attention, but depending on the person, it might feel smothering and counterproductive, explains licensed psychotherapist Markesha Miller, PhD.
4. Don’t try to “fix” it.
“It is easy to want to save the day, but recognize that this is not something you can fix,” says Miller. “There is a difference between being a supporter and a fixer.”
5. Take the time to learn about depression on your own.
In these cases, a “team effort” is most useful, explains relationship and sex therapist Andrew Aaron, marriage counselor at Help for Passion. “A caring [partner] will learn about depression,” adds Aaron, in order to more compassionately understand and listen to their partner’s experiences.
And as for what the nonprofessionals said:
1. “You can’t love her so much it fixes everything.”
“Know that you ultimately have no control over it. You can’t magically fix it. You can’t love her so much it fixes everything. It’s her brain and it’s up to her to pull herself out of it. Whether that be through medication or therapy or a little of both. The biggest mistakes my friends made when trying to help me was thinking they could solve it. Fifteen-ish years of it, and they all tried and failed to singlehandedly fix it. The only thing that helps is knowing they are loved and supported no matter how many times they shut you out and hermit crab their days or weeks away.” —harryinthetardis
2. “Knowing that you still love and support her even if you’re pissed is a good thing to communicate.”
“I don’t know how my husband does it. He puts up with me at my worst, and I love him dearly because of it.
“That being said, it’s taken him a while to understand that willing myself happy doesn’t work. If he wants to be happy, he is. If he wants to get off the couch and stop being a lump, he does that too. Finally understanding that a person with depression can’t do that has been amazingly helpful for me.
“You will get frustrated with her. You will get angry. These are okay feelings to have. Knowing that you still love and support her even if you’re pissed is a good thing to communicate. Let her know you’re upset with the situation, not her, and you know it’s not her fault.
“Early on in our relationship, I was in a really bad place. I slept for most of the day and gained 40 pounds. My husband is a saint. He stuck with me, encouraged me to get help, and was patient while they played around with my meds.” —jldreadful
3. “When my S.O. has a rough day, sometimes it draws me from my cocoon to try to make him feel better.”
“Mature individuals understand that nondepressed folks have bad days sometimes. Bad days are part of being a person.
“I’ve been dealing with depression. When my S.O. has a rough day, sometimes it draws me from my cocoon to try to make him feel better. It’s pretty easy for me to tell if he’s had a rough day, so hiding it would just make the atmosphere uncomfortable and make me feel like he is somehow coddling me. I love him so much, I hate seeing him down, so even if I haven’t managed to bathe or change my clothes ’cause I just don’t wanna, can’t, I will still try to do SOMETHING to make him feel better, and it just might make me feel better along the way.
“I think a good way to let your S.O. know you’re having a bad day but you are still there for her is something like this: ‘Hey, sweetie/punkin/boo, I’ve had a rough day. Knowing you’re my girl/coming home to you makes me feel better though. Let’s go to bed early.’ Haha. I sleep more when I’m depressed, and my S.O. likes to sleep a lot anyhow.” —thiskitchenisbitchin
4. “He never makes me feel bad about canceling plans and just goes with the flow.”
“As a wife with depression, my husband is incredibly supportive. One of the best things he does is tells me that it’s not my fault and there’s nothing wrong with me when I’m apologizing to him for being this way. He never makes me feel bad about canceling plans and just goes with the flow. He also does sweet little things, like he bought a journal and he writes in it every two to three days to tell me little silly things, or he’ll leave me a note.
“We were watching Mr. Robot and I was in a downer mood, and the next day he showed up with a Qwerty for me.
“Silly little things matter so, so much.” —msblckyeliner
5. “Build your own support system: friends, family, hobbies, community.”
“Remember two very important things:
“It’s not your fault she is depressed. Even if something you did seemed to trigger a bad day for her, this is an illness in her mind, and if X event hadn’t triggered it, Y event would have.
“There is nothing you can do to fix it. You can’t make it go away and you can’t make it better.
“What you can do is tell her/show her you love her and be a constant in her life, something she can trust when she can’t trust her own mind. Ask her what she wants/needs for support. If she asks for something, follow through if you can.
“And build your own support system: friends, family, hobbies, community. I feel being with someone who has depression can be incredibly draining on your emotional resources. Make sure you’re securing your own oxygen mask before trying to help her with hers.” —bringabanana
6. “Don’t make her feel bad if she doesn’t accomplish anything in a day.”
“JUST BE THERE. Is she crying? Hold her. She doesn’t want to get out of bed? Bring her snacks. She doesn’t want to bathe? Have a bath together! Doesn’t want to get dressed? Wash her favorite pajamas so she has something clean to put on.
“As a woman who struggles with severe depression, the most amazing thing a person can do for you is to just support you and NOT try to fix it. Don’t try to make her exercise. Don’t make her feel bad if she doesn’t accomplish anything in a day. Don’t make her talk about it if she doesn’t want to. Don’t try to force her to be happy. She already feels so badly about herself and all those things. Just be there for her.” —spicybrushetta
7. “Just make sure she knows you’re there because you want to be.”
“I was in her shoes for quite a while. Depression takes its ups and downs, but it always helped when my S.O. would be there with me, and for me, without prompt or pressure to do anything. For months, I didn’t want to leave the house, but he would make sure that I was comfortable and that I knew he loved me. Sometimes it was even hard to show affection toward him.
“Depression is like a constant battle in your head…always telling you that you aren’t good enough. I know that being the S.O. in this situation is hard and discouraging at times. I found a job that I enjoyed and that really helped me begin to see the light, although it was about two years before I could say I wasn’t depressed. It took a ton of love and support from my S.O. as well as help from a doctor. Just make sure she knows you’re there because YOU want to be. Little things that show that you care are helpful too—flowers, fave food, a movie night in, breakfast in bed, or even to just hold her hand.” —blahblah1327
8. “Being depressed is not the same as being sad, even really, really sad.”
“Once-depressed girlfriend here. If she is truly, clinically depressed, understand that you can be supportive but you cannot help her not be depressed. Being depressed is not the same as being sad, even really, really sad. You can probably cheer her up a bit, distract her a bit once in a while, you might even help her have a really good day, but you cannot cure this situation because it’s not a matter of taking someone sad and making them happy.
“Some depressions resolve by themselves in time, some cannot without professional help. I think even ones of the former category are helped with professional intervention—counseling, psychodynamic therapy, medication—usually a combination of these.
“If you want to help her, help her find good, professional help. When you are depressed, finding a good doctor or a therapist can feel like climbing the Himalayas, there are so many steps and so many dead ends along the way. Help her with all that, I would say that’s the best thing you can do. And look after yourself too—you can’t help her if you are mired in her misery as well.” —zazzlekdazzle
9. “Knowing there is someone there for me is what keeps me going.”
“Speaking as the girlfriend with depression: Be there for her. Understand that she can’t control how she’s feeling, especially if it’s a bad day. Speaking personally, knowing there is someone there for me is what keeps me going.
“It’s important to know that you can’t fix it yourself. Never tell someone with depression to just ‘be happier.’ But you can do little things, like cuddling, making tea, making sure she’s eating well, watching happy movies, asking how she’s feeling, going on short walks (but don’t push it if she really doesn’t want to).
“Make sure you separate your emotional state from hers. I’m sure you love and care for your girlfriend, but her emotions aren’t your own. Remember that you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.” —fancyabiscuit
10. “Just feel sad with her.”
“Just feel sad with her. Depressed people are told constantly that it’s all in their head and their problems are all imagined and not really serious. It would probably be really nice to have one person take her seriously. Instead of telling her that all her problems are minor and can be easily solved, just acknowledge them and empathize with her.” —avanross
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