Are you dating, married, or in a relationship with someone struggling with depression? Maybe you suspect that your significant other may be depressed, but you don’t know what to do. Perhaps you feel frustrated because your partner has changed, and they've completely withdrawn from you. You feel as though you can’t get through to your partner because they're drinking more than usual, they get easily irritated, or they've isolated themselves completely. Sound familiar?
Dealing with a partner who is struggling with depression can feel challenging and may even affect your own mental health. So, how do you offer care and support to your partner without abandoning your own needs (physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing)? The key to being supportive and loving when your partner is struggling with depression is to first understand how depression affects your partner.
My name is Irene Wangari Migwi, and I am a Life Coach, Mental Health Advocate, and Writer who is passionate about spreading awareness about mental health and equipping people with helpful resources and knowledge to help them navigate the challenges of everyday life. I am also dedicated to helping people learn about self-care and self-love so that they can show up as the best version of themselves in their relationships. Kindly note that the advice I offer below is purely based on my own experience as a life coach and is not medical or psychiatric advice.
Depression is an important topic for me because it's something that I have lived through and experienced.
When I lost my dad in 2017, I became so depressed that I wanted to give up on everything because l felt like nothing mattered anymore. My whole world had turned upside down and I didn’t think I would ever enjoy life again. I was wrong.
After embarking on a life-changing journey of healing and processing the trauma and grief, I was able to come out on the other side of depression and improve my mental health. My experience allows me to relate to people struggling with depression and encourage them to keep fighting for their mental health because healing can be possible.
In addition to learning how to take care of a depressed partner, this article will also help you learn how to take care of yourself so that you can be a healthy, supportive, and loving partner to your loved one.
How can depression affect a relationship?
Depression is a mental health disorder that affects a person’s feelings, thoughts, and actions, and manifests itself as persistent negative thoughts and severe feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness.
So, how can you support a depressed partner? How do you know when your partner’s depression is negatively affecting your relationship? There are a few key signs that you need to look out for.
Are the fights between you and your partner getting more intense? Do they seem easily irritated by your perceived flaws, making you feel as though you must walk on eggshells around them? If your partner is always annoyed or angry with you, it could be an indication that their depression is impacting your relationship.
Heightened substance abuse
People suffering from depression may turn to substances like alcohol to numb the torture of poor mental health. If you notice that your partner has been drinking more than usual, it could mean that they're using alcohol to cope with the effects of depression.
A poor or non-existent sex life
Depression has a staggering effect on one’s sex drive. In fact, research shows that 70% of depressed people experience a drop in their sex drive, if they’re not on any medication. The lack of self-drive in your partner could be caused by a variety of issues connected to depression such as performance anxiety, shame, low self-esteem, hidden resentment, and chronic fatigue, among others.
If you gently address the issue and let your partner know you still care for them, it could reignite the sexual connection, which may strengthen your relationship and bring you guys closer together. This may also encourage your partner to reveal their mental struggles and allow you to help them.
Pessimistic view towards the relationship
Does your partner seem overly pessimistic towards your relationship? Maybe they say things like ‘What’s the point of staying together?’ or ‘You'll leave me because everyone always leaves’ or ‘I am not worthy of your love’ or ‘You should just let me suffer’.
Perhaps your partner doesn’t seem to appreciate you enough. They find flaws in everything you do, or they withhold their emotions, yet in the past, they could freely express how they felt about you. If that sounds like your relationship, then your partner may be depressed or struggling in some other way and feeling unable to open up.
How can you provide support without self-abandoning?
Well, you first need to understand that it’s not your partner’s fault that they're depressed. Believe me, if it was up to your partner, they'd get rid of the depression and get back to being their normal bright, loving, and cheerful self in a heartbeat. But they can’t.
Depression isn’t a feeling that your partner can snap out of. It’s something that they must live through while working on their mental health to get better. Your partner needs all the love and support they can get, even if they don’t show it.
Here are a few tips on how you can support your partner without neglecting yourself
If you have a partner struggling with depression, ensure that you encourage them to seek help from a medical or mental health professional, such as their GP/family doctor, or a therapist. You can show your support by taking your partner to therapy sessions and letting them know that they're not alone. By helping your partner seek help, you'll be playing a crucial role in their healing.
Develop healthy boundaries
When depressed people get easily irritated or annoyed, they might say negative or hurtful words towards you. Since you know that they're depressed, you may excuse their behaviour and ignore their negative words. Over time, their harsh words may influence your self-esteem or mental health negatively.
Therefore, ensure that you set healthy boundaries with your partner. Let them know that even though you care for them, you'll not accept any disrespect from them. Anytime they say something negative towards you, speak up and remain firm with your boundaries.
You can still be loving and supportive while being firm.
Have time for yourself
Being with someone that’s struggling with depression may make you feel like you must be available to them all the time. Although spending quality time with your loved one is necessary to make them feel loved and supported, ensure that you're not availing yourself at the expense of your own needs.
Make sure that you have time to focus on other areas of your life too. Go to work. Don’t miss that interview. Take that nature walk that you desperately need. Start that business. Ensure that you don't put important areas of your life on hold because it will eventually lead to feelings of resentment. Let your partner know that they can always count on you or call you when you're not around.
Finally, I would like to add that the self-care tips above are not exclusive to depression. If your partner is struggling with other mental health disorders or going through a really difficult time, you can use the tips above to be supportive without self-abandoning.