When Your Partner Has Depression

WebMD Blog:

When Your Partner Has Depression

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD


It’s painful to watch your partner struggle with depression. They seem to have no motivation. No interest in anything. They may not even seem to have a desire to try. The shared love, connection, and fun you’ve had together are fading into distant memories. It’s like a huge dark cloud hangs over your whole relationship. So, what can you do?

To begin with, it’s important to know that you are both far from alone. In 2017, the World Health Organization estimated that more than 300 million people across the globe suffer from depression. In 2015, the National Institute for Mental Health estimated that 16.1 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. These are people who suffered from debilitating depression.

Although knowing this does not make your situation better, it does mean that others can understand just how painful it is to watch someone you love suffer from depression. They have felt the pain and helplessness that go with failed attempts at offering love and concrete suggestions to “revive” their partner. It can also help to know that many of them have found their way out of the darkness.

A good first step is to educate yourself about depression. Read about it from respected sources, such as the American Psychological Association. You might also reach out to support groups. By typing “support groups for partners with depression” into your search engine, you might find an online or local group that is best for you. Members of such groups can give you their personal experiences related to having partners with depression. What you’ll probably find is that they have struggled with many of the same emotions as you. They often feel sad and helpless. They feel angry with their partners not helping themselves and guilty about their anger or desire to just give up. What will hopefully also become clear is the need for you to take care of yourself. If support groups aren’t right for you or don’t offer enough help, consider seeking out a professional therapist for support and guidance.

Armed with greater knowledge about depression, you have a better chance of truly understanding your partner’s struggles. Rather than just trying to push your loved one into action or “make” them happy, talk with them. You may find that you can make progress by listening and empathizing with them along with expressing your concerns.  Ask how you can help and support them. They might be willing to try doing something they used to enjoy, such as socializing with friends or returning to a hobby. If they agree to exercise, that can help, too. But you might hit a brick wall. If this happens, take it as a sign that your partner needs more help than you can provide.

When someone’s depression seems impenetrable or persists for weeks despite efforts to make it better, it is time to reach out for professional assistance. Both psychotherapy and medicine can be effective in alleviating depression (here’s a post with more info about how therapy can help). Next, talk with your partner about taking this step. If their depression is overwhelming, you might need to be the one to find a therapist and schedule an appointment (this post has some tips for finding a therapist).

Even when your partner needs professional help, your love can be a healing force. But remember, while helping your partner through depression, be sure to also take care of yourself.

Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.


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