Everybody feels down now and then, it’s only natural. Unfortunately, for the one in five Brits who suffer from some form of depression, these periods of feeling sad, anxious and irritable can become more than temporary and last weeks, months, even years.
The dark cloud of depression doesn’t only affect the person who is ill. Like any other illness, it has a direct impact on everyone in that person’s life, including his or her partner.
‘Mental illnesses such as depression can have a significant effect on a relationship,’ explains Beth Murphy from mental health charity Mind. ‘However, the degree to which it affects the relationship depends on the individual. Every relationship is unique and the symptoms of depression can be unique to each individual.’
If you live with a partner who suffers from depression, he or she will be experiencing lots of negative thoughts. They may think that they’re a bad person and undeserving of your love and affection. They may also be losing interest in the things that they used to enjoy doing, including things you enjoyed together, and find the simplest of tasks daunting.
Your partner could also be confused over what he or she wants. Murphy explains: “A person who suffers from depression can become very withdrawn and want to take a step back from the relationship. They may want affection but when it’s offered, they’ll find it too much to handle.”
If your partner is on medication, or has to regulate his or her sleeping pattern, your sex life can suffer too. “Medication can make people feel lethargic and if they need to be in bed at certain times, the opportunities to have sex will decrease.”
All of these problems will inevitably put a strain on your relationship, but there are ways to cope. In order to effectively support your partner while they are suffering from depression, Mind suggests you try the following:
Social stigma and general misunderstandings about depression means that some people don’t understand the severity of the illness. Depression is not self-inflicted. Your partner can’t help being affected by depression. It’s important to remind them that they’re not weak because of their illness and you don’t think any less of them because of it.
Talk it out
Talking about your feelings or getting another person to open up about theirs is never a simple task, particularly when you’re discussing a person’s illness. However, you shouldn’t be afraid of encouraging your partner to talk about their symptoms and what is going on in their mind.
When you’re living with a partner who has depression, it’s important that you don’t take on the role of a full-time care giver. ‘You need to set boundaries early on and make it clear that you’re their partner, not their therapist,’ says Murphy. ‘Encourage them to seek professional support or get them to call the Mind Infoline.’
Give your partner hope for recovery
While your partner may feel as if their depression will never end, you should encourage them to believe that with time and treatment they will get better. Offer them hope of a positive future and let them know that you will support them through the highs and lows.
Murphy offers these optimistic words: “At first you might find looking after your partner draining, especially if you don’t have much of an insight on the illness. But this can actually be an opportunity to build trust in your relationship and make it stronger. The personal growth and road to recovery the two of you will go through is a positive experience.”
Word of warning
In some more extreme cases, a person suffering from depression can experience suicidal thoughts.
‘There’s a misconception that if a person talks about committing suicide, they won’t act on it. You need to treat this situation seriously and seek professional help, ”insists Murphy“. Don’t be afraid of talking to your partner about it.’
If you’re concerned that your partner is at risk of hurting him or herself, put them in touch with the Samaritans, or you can take them to A&E for immediate psychiatric help.