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Supporting a partner through depression

By Mariam Hakim , Family Flavours - Jun 16,2019 - Last updated at Jun 16,2019

Photo courtesy of Family Flavours magazine

By Mariam Hakim

Relationships and Couples Therapist


Depression is an isolating experience that can leave both partners feeling lost and afraid as it can seem very hard to understand for a person who has not experienced it.

A person suffering through it may exhibit some or all of the following: 

• Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and fearfulness 

• Anxiety and agitation

• Changes in appetite and weight; weight gain or weight loss

• Loss of energy and constant fatigue; small everyday mundane tasks can seem difficult to accomplish

• Sleep disturbances; too much or too little sleep

• Feeling down, worthless or guilty

• Irritability and angry outbursts

• Social withdrawal and isolation

• Apathy and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities

• Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions

• Thoughts of death and or suicide

• Unexplained physical symptoms such as muscle pain, headaches or stomach pain


Even when depression is not severe, it can be quite overwhelming and debilitating for the person who is depressed. Here are tips on how to best help and support a partner:


Not attempting to coax or persuade a partner out of depression


Saying things like “just cheer up,” “life is good; you have nothing to be depressed about”, “be grateful for what you have” or “you’re not making enough of an effort” will only invalidate a partner’s illness and feelings. 

Depression is not about the person being negative or not counting their blessings; it is a complex illness caused by a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors. Similarly, one would not tell a partner to just snap out of it if they were suffering from diabetes; one needs to learn more about depression.


Not taking a partner’s negativity personally


A partner with depression will often look, act and talk in negative ways. 

This should not be taken personally as being positive is not a choice; negativity is a symptom of illness and not something one can control.


Being there


A supportive partner often feels the need to know all the answers and find a solution, but just being present is enough to help a partner not feel alone. 

Cues should come from the depressed partner, but one can ask what and how to help. 

Being overprotective and worried are counterproductive; this will only make them feel worse because they are making one feel sad and anxious.


Encouraging and helping with treatment


People who suffer from depression do not always understand their symptoms nor recognise that they are going through depression. 

They often think this is something they just need to endure, but depression seldom becomes better on its own. 

A discussion about the symptoms and encouraging discussion about feelings is a good idea. 

You can also show an article that explains depression and the symptoms and treatment options. 

A psychotherapist can evaluate and diagnose depression, and advise if medication is needed.


Taking baby steps


Depression can be debilitating where every small task feels like a considerable effort. A loved one is not being difficult, stubborn or lazy; they should not be shamed or made to feel inadequate. 

One can encourage a depressed partner to set small goals and support themin their efforts towards achieving them. 

Showing understanding is better than showing disappointment when things do not go as planned because people with depression can easily feel guilty as they might believe that they are a burden on the people around them.


Taking care of one’s self


Supporting a partner through any kind of physical or mental illness can take a massive toll on physical and psychological well-being. 

One cannot pour from an empty cup so self-care must also be made a priority.


Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

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