Depression affects every aspect of someone’s life, whether that’s getting to work in the morning when there is traffic, finishing a difficult task, talking to people in social situations, or carrying out friendships and romantic relationships. Simply put — depression can make any already challenging task almost impossible.
Relationships carry with them a number of challenges including communication, scheduling time together, or meeting each other’s parents. As someone with depression, I can tell you that meeting a partner’s parents is like meeting Frank Underwood from House Of Cards in a dark subway station (it’s horrifying). With the right amount of support from a partner, though, the relationship — and life with depression, generally — can be pretty manageable. Here are a few simple ways you can support a partner who is struggling with depression.
1. Let Them Know You’re There
One of the easiest things you can do to help a partner with depression is reminding them that you’re there. This doesn’t mean pestering them with questions about how they’re feeling; rather, it’s a good idea to say something like, “Hey, do you want to talk about it?” If they say yes, then listen. If they say no, then affectionate, physical support might be a better idea.
If you know your partner is having a rough day, or if their depression is linked to a specific event (like the death of a family member), be sure to reach out and remind them that you’re thinking of them, that they’re important to you, and that you hope they have a wonderful day. If they want to chat after you reach out, they will let you know.
2. Be Understanding Of Their Bad Days
Living with depression is an ongoing battle. There are some really great days when it doesn’t seem to even be there, and then there are days when you can barely get out of bed. On those really awful days, it’s important to be patient with your partner. You can ask if there’s anything you can do, but odds are there really isn’t.
Don’t criticize them or say “it could be much worse,” because to them their situation feels really bad, even if it might not look that way to an outsider. Let them wallow a bit. Maybe watch a movie with them and make popcorn, or massage their feet. Or maybe just leave them alone. Read their body language and ask questions nicely to figure out what would make getting through the day a tiny bit easier.
3. Don’t Attribute Their Feelings To Your Relationship
This is a big no no. People experiencing depression will sometimes have bad days when the weather is great and it would be wonderful to do something outside. Try not to look for reasons why they are feeling bad (like you did something wrong or the relationship is tanking), and don’t take their feelings as a personal attack. But do encourage them to do something fun with you, even if it’s a low-key activity like watching a movie.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m in the grips of my depression is paint or color. Yeah, maybe it sounds a little goofy, but it’s a fun way to do something new with your partner and expend a minimal amount of energy. while also avoiding making them feel guilty for not wanting to get out and about. I’ve even turned days around by painting with a friend on her back porch for four hours in the dead of winter.
4. Read About Depression
Learn about depression as much as possible. They symptoms of depression can change over time, and they can be affected by activity levels, choice of foods, and the weather. The more you understand about the way depression functions, the better you’ll be able to adapt to and support your partner over time.
Keep in mind, though, that you want to avoid diagnosing them. Don’t say, “Well I read X, so maybe you should do Y.” Instead, make mental notes of things you’ve read. Or, if you have questions about something you’ve read, ask your partner to discuss it with you. If you feel like you’re really in the dark when it comes to supporting your partner, meet with a licensed professional.