Are You Supporting a Partner With Depression? My 12 Tips
Updated: Nov 4, 2019
I am a holistically trained Counsellor. I have personally supported my husband for over 20+ years with depression. So when I say depression is a thief, I’m speaking from both personal and professional experience. I have seen how it can take the joy, energy, and sense of purpose out of everyday life. I know how it can affect every aspect of a person’s life. I also know how hard it can be to support a partner living with depression.
When someone with depression withdraws from loved ones without communicating why, it leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. I’ve seen this with my clients and in my own life. One partner may not understand why the other is distant, distracted, or even angry. They may wonder what they did to offend the other person, or they may be frustrated or hurt that their partner has suddenly detached from them.
For two years I worked as an online volunteer with Beyond Blue assisting families who found themselves supporting a loved one with mental illness. The similarities between what l experienced in my personal life and supporting individuals online; we want more than anything to take away our loved one's pain and suffering, to move the darkness and bring them into the light. What most people don't realise is that at some point, the struggle to keep our partners afloat will drain the last bit of energy reserve from our mind and body. The result... fear of what is to come, the strongest kind of fear, that of the unknown.
Depression varies tremendously in severity, but it has many behavioural impacts that can profoundly affect relationships. It’s natural to feel powerless, anxious, afraid, frustrated and confused. But there are many ways you can help (both them and yourself).
1. Don't take things personally
You should avoid taking your partner's symptoms of depression personally, but you shouldn't ignore them. The fact that depression can sap your partner's motivation for romance doesn't make it hurt any less when you feel neglected. If your partner were sick or injured, you wouldn't resent them for it, but you would help them get treatment. Depression is no different.
2. Don't force treatment
Forcing treatment or using it as an ultimatum on your partner will only cause resentment and distance. You can assist and support, but you can't coerce your partner to do anything. If they refuse to get help, then you're welcome to reassess whether or not you can remain supportive or stay in the relationship, but they need to decide for themselves how and when to get help.
3. Set boundaries
Of course, you want to help, but you can only do so much. Your own health will suffer if you let your life be controlled by your loved one's depression. You can't be a caretaker round the clock without paying a psychological price. To avoid burnout and resentment, set clear limits on what you are willing and able to do. You are not your loved one's therapist, so don't take on that responsibility.
4. You don't have to do this on your own
Reach out to family and/or trusted friends to feel supported. This also covers support groups - online or face to face. Don't let stigma stop you from reaching out.
5. Knowledge is power
Research to understand about depression. The more you know, the better care you can provide. In this world of online, everything is accessible. Check out the Beyond Blue website for information at https://www.beyondblue.org.au/personal-best/pillar/supporting-others or Sane Australia at https://www.sane.org/
Both sites have online assistance and a ton of information to support you.
6. Remember why you love them
Remember your partner in the good times - this is their true selves, not the darkness.
7. Seek Counselling
Sharing your feelings can provide an opportunity to offload the heavy stuff and identify resilience and coping strategies. I see many people in my private practice who come to me to build their emotional toolkit. The load becomes lighter when we know how to handle the tough times.
8. Work as a team
Don't let mental illness be in the driver's seat. Offer to go to the Dr's and support your partner. Understand medication and side effects. Be understanding that some days are harder than others. Team up to tackle depression rather than allowing it to drive your relationship apart.
9. Look after your well-being
Supporting a significant other through a hard time is always going to be stressful. There's no getting around that. That doesn't mean it's not worth it, but it can be a danger to your own well-being. You can't help your partner if you're too overwhelmed to function. So ensure you are doing activities that support your mind, body and spirit like exercise, meditation, meeting friends or reading a book for example. Anything that supports your mental health will pay off in the short and long term
9. Words are powerful
Dealing with a partner's depression can provoke anger and resentment, especially if one partner is often making excuses for a loved one's social absences, or if some household responsibilities might need to temporarily shift. Remember what you say cannot be taken back. Words hurt and scare the heart and mind. If you feel anger rise in you, step away, clear your head and come back knowing you can speak with clarity rather than anger. You are more likely to be heard this way.
10. Don't forget the children
Challenging circumstances at home will affect children mentally and emotionally. Speak about mental illness and be a strong foundation toward maintaining normality in their daily activities. Breaking stigma starts at home and with education. COPMI - Children with Parents with a Mental Illness is a great site to assist you to guide your children. http://www.copmi.net.au/
11. Listen with clarity
Listen and show receptivity without judgement or anger. Encourage gently to talk about the way he or she is feeling, thinking or acting, and listen without passing judgment. If communication becomes strained, taking some timeout can provide clarity. Encourage communication gently and try not to push.
12. Be patient with the treatment process
A certain amount of trial and error in treatment is to be expected. This could be with choosing the right mental health practitioner and/or medication. A good combination of medication and talk therapy, with time and treatment, will lift depression. Remember, it is not a race. Patience is key
If you need guidance and support, book a Holistic Counselling session with me at https://www.soulworksessential.com/holistic-counselling
Carmela co-authored 'Grieving For The Living' in 2016. She writes of her journey supporting her husband with depression. The book is a powerful collection of real-life stories, full of poignant answers to candid questions. The book is designed to help raise awareness and offer comfort to others facing similiar challenges. To know more, follow the link - https://www.soulworksessential.com/product-page/grief-diaries-grieving-for-the-living
Carmela Pollock is a holistic trained Counsellor, Quantum Healing Hypnosis Therapist, Usui Reiki Master Teacher, animal lover, and avid book reader. She started her own healing journey nearly 15 years ago after a life-long struggle with chronic pain caused by uterine disease. After discovering the healing power of Reiki combined with Counselling, she is living a quality of life that was unimaginable before. Carmela is in private practice on the Mornington Peninsula, Australia where she holds a sacred space to guide and support adults and children in therapy using eastern and western medicine.
If you would like to know more about Carmela's services, visit her website at www.soulworksessential.com/workwithme
'I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see Carmela. I have only used psychologists before. I was pleasantly surprised with how in tune Carmela was and able to start making inroads unlike the psychologists I have seen. I highly recommend her. '
~ Mick Gray, Victoria, Australia
'Carmela has changed my life in so many ways. I was struggling and without direction. I played small because l didn't know how to get out of this limiting mindset. She guided me gently and opened a space of compassion and connection. I am so thankful and grateful of her skills to open a heart like mine that was closed for so long due to grief and childhood neglect. Thank you Carmela for what you do.'
~ Stephanie B, Mornington, Victoria, Australia
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