Your partner has been diagnosed with depression – what's your role to play and how are you going to cope living alongside them and depression?
The first thing to remember is that depression is not a lifestyle choice. It is an illness and just like any other, it will affect the whole household if a member of the family is unwell. Understanding helps, as does arming yourself with as much information on the condition as possible. Here are six important things to know:
1. Depression is temporary
Depression hijacks an individual's capacity to experience pleasure and meaning. That means that your 'playmate' will temporarily be your mate, minus the play! Keep at the forefront of your mind that this is only a temporary change. Why temporary? Because depression by it's nature is episodic and eminently treatable with the right help.
2. It won't kill your relationship
At some point you might start wondering whether your problems (such as lack of sex, a partner who is withdrawn) are not depression, but a straightforward relationship issue.
Symptoms of depression are all about change. If your partner has a CHANGE in libido (whether higher or lower than before), concentration, sense of humour and if they are more withdrawn than usual, these are symptoms of depression. Equally you may feel less inclined to have sex – as let's be frank – depression is no aphrodisiac.
If you've only struggled in the relationship since the depression made an appearance, then you can probably attribute your current problems to the impact and pressures depression puts on everyday living. However, if they predate the depression you might want to consider couples counselling. But if your partner is ill it's NOT the time for couples therapy. A qualified professional would be able to assess when couples counselling would be appropriate.
Remember, doing your best for your partner when times are tough and are vulnerable can really deepen your connection and your relationship can flourish. How often do we hear of a relationship growing in the face of adversity?
3. Depression is not catching
It can feel like it is, though. But there are ways in which you can stay afloat:- Remember you don't have to change your mood to accommodate theirs.- You are allowed to feel happy when they are feeling low. It won't make ANY DIFFERENCE to them but it won't be any fun for you. After all, two depressed heads are much more problematic than one.
When an individual is depressed they often behave in ways that will reflect their mood. They may want to hibernate, stay at home, not get dressed and eat a poor diet. Resist any urge you may have to mimic your partner's behaviour or be tempted to join them on the sofa eating biscuits. Be sensitive, but also go about your normal business.
4.Your feelings matter too
Just because you don't have depression doesn't mean you won't have feelings about your partner and the impact depression will have on your life together. And just because you're not suffering in the same way does not negate your feelings. Your feelings are of equal importance – speaking up about your fears and concerns to loved ones is not disloyal. Remember there is no hierarchy in worrying and acknowledging how you feel in a difficult time. This will help you get through it. You take care of yourself, otherwise you're no good to them.
5. Depression is very commonDepression is not a rare illness, 1 in 3 suffer from mental illness during the course of their life and depression is the common cold of mental health problems. Once you understand this, then you can start to see it in perspective and remember that is manageable and treatable.
6. Help is a must (professional and personal)
Depression is a real illness that needs to be treated by a professional. If your partner is not getting him or herself to a psychiatrist or therapist, see if they will agree to you making an initial appointment for them. Proper medical help can really lift a huge burden.
On the personal front, recruit allies – friends and family – to take care of your partner so you can have breaks. Keep in touch with friends and family so that you can have shoulders to lean on – you will need people to listen. It's good to get relief from the world of depression – you CAN get physical distance from it, even though your partner cannot. In fact it is beneficial to you both if you manage to get out. Go to the movies. Have a change of scene. This will help both of you.