Support is essential when you struggle with depression, and it’s good if that support can come from a variety of people and means.
That said many of us a have a pivotal relationship – either romantic (with a spouse or a partner) or otherwise (with a close family member or friend) – which is put under particular stress when depression raises its ugly head.
When you’re struggling with depression, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to be with you. You feel utterly unloveable, and may lash out or withdraw. Your depression can be so all-consuming it feels easier just to push your partner away.
Things are equally difficult if you’re in a relationship with someone who is depressed. You may feel frustrated by their condition, bewildered by their behaviour, and powerless to help.
Despite these challenges, it is still possible to keep your relationship healthy when depression intervenes.
Every relationship – and every experience of depression – is different, but with the input of our Peer Support Group, we’ve identified five strategies that can help keep your relationship strong.
Honesty is so important in a relationship. If you suffer from depression, it’s important to be open about this with your partner – even though this can feel daunting. Being honest helps your loved one understand you, and enables them to support you when times get tough.
“It is better to be completely honest from the word ‘go’, it’s a lot for the ‘well’ person to take in too so it’s only fair that they are aware of our additional needs”
If your partner has summoned the courage to be honest with you about their mental health issues, it’s important to be honest back. If you are worried, or confused, or unsure – say so. If you have questions – ask them. Your partner may not have all the answers (though they live with the condition that doesn’t mean they understand everything about it), but they’d rather say that than be faced with silence.
“he is often fooled by my ‘mask’ so when I crash it comes as a bit of a shock”
People who suffer with depression often put on a ‘mask’ to help them face the outside world and disguise how they feel inside. If you use a mask – let your partner see behind it. If you’re the supporting partner – remember that it exists.
Although you can’t live in your partner’s head, you can put yourself in their shoes.
If you are in a relationship with someone with depression, remain mindful that although you cannot see it, they are ill, and their difficult behaviour often comes from their illness, and not them. As this Blogging Blurter explains:
“Know that when they lash out at you, it is not personal; they are lashing out at themselves; often they may say things they don’t mean, but it’s often just what their demons are telling them.
Understand that whilst you get up, showered, brush your teeth, get dressed and eat breakfast, sometimes just one of those tasks for the person you care about is like climbing Everest with one leg, barefoot.
Try to understand their ‘normal’. Wanting to hide in the dark for a day, trying to choose what to wear and crying because it’s so hard, making fudge at midnight… it’s their normal. Don’t force a different normal on them”
If you struggle with depression, remember that the situation is tough for your partner too. They will feel frustrated that they can’t alleviate your pain, and that they don’t know what to do.
“He struggles to understand why I’m depressed and gets flustered by the thought he can’t just fix me”.
“She’s not sure how to be, or what to say sometimes. It’s hard for her”
“Although they may not suffer with mental health, often it takes a toll on them, often they’ll even internalise that it must be something to do with them”.
When you view your situation through your loved one’s eyes, it’s easier to understand how they are feeling and what they are going through.
Good communication is incredibly important in a relationship. You need to feel able to express your thoughts and feelings, explain your behaviours, and advise on how you’d like your needs to be met.
Encourage each other to talk – and LISTEN objectively.
If your partner struggles with depression, be patient. Remember mental illness isn’t logical, and your loved one may be just as confused by it as you are.
You might feel the need to offer advice, but this isn’t necessary: most likely they just want a safe place to voice how they’re feeling, and comfort in return.
“I need constant reassurance that he still likes me and wants me around”
If you struggle with depression, try and find ways to communicate how you are feeling and what you need in a way your partner will understand:
“They need to understand that sometimes you will be sad about nothing or that every little thing you do wrong feels like the end of the world or that you can become annoyed extremely easily. My BF is still learning how to deal with all this but by explaining to him exactly how I feel and how my brain works helps”.
You can also offer your partner some practical advice about how they can help you:
“They might get frustrated because they aren’t able to help, so it’s important you give them some key steps about how, say – you’d like an anxiety attack to be treated”
If speaking up is difficult for you, there is lots of information online (such as our resources page) that you can point them to.
Finally, if someone is caring for you it’s good to tell them that you’re grateful for their support. A kind word during a tough time can make all the difference.
SUPPORT EACH OTHER
There are many different ways you can support a loved one with depression. Here are some suggestions from the Blurt Community:
“help and support the person with kind gestures… it may not look like they appreciate it, but you can be certain that they do”
“Reassure them, even if they never believe you, that their demons are liars”
“If you are in any way able to relieve the pressure, be that spending the day in the dark with them, or taking over some ordinary daily tasks that they find scary and daunting and confusing and overwhelming, do. It might not seem like a big thing to you, but it could make all the difference to them”
“listen to what’s on their mind without prejudice. Big cuddles help too”
“My boyfriend supports me when my MH takes a turn for the worst honestly just by being there. It sounds so simplistic but having someone to talk to who actually believes that your illness is genuine is hugely comforting”
“Whenever he can see that I’m getting a bit panicky, I will have his full attention and he will reassure me that I’m fine and the panic will pass”.
“I kind of like to just have my own space and be left alone sometimes. That’s difficult for someone to deal with but it’s how I deal with feeling low”
“My other half generally supports me by not forcing me to do anything but letting me be and just being there. He understands that it’s not personal”
“little things help make me feel better, some chocolate, watching a particular programme, a walk even just to the corner shop”
“Sometimes I just need to hold his hand, or if I feel really bad he will just cuddle me”
If you’re supporting someone with depression, it’s important to get support for yourself too.
It’s vital for your own emotional wellbeing to take time out from caring to care for yourself.
Remember support from outside of your relationship can be incredibly helpful too – you don’t just have to manage this between yourselves.
Connecting with people in a similar situation can be very enlightening:
“I personally have just recently gone to a friend and family meet set up by the charity Mind. It was amazing, and has really helped me to support my other half”.
There are also many specialist organisations out there that can help you.
SHOW A UNITED FRONT
Healthy relationships are partnerships – in the truest sense of the word. When one person in the partnership is struggling, the other is there to unquestionably offer support.
“When you’re in a relationship, your depression is not just your problem, it’s both of yours. It’s amazing when you think about it – you’ve got someone to support you!”
We should also note that in some relationships, both partners struggle with poor mental health. If that’s the case for you, and you both go through a bad patch simultaneously, it is extra important that you get outside support. That way you are better equipped to be there for each other.
Sadly, not all relationships are partnerships. If you struggle with depression, and your partner is unwilling to try and understand how things are for you or offer support, you need to question whether this is a healthy relationship for you to be in.
“He doesn’t understand what it is like. He calls it a made up illness. Says you just have to get on with it, don’t be silly there is nothing wrong with you”.
“I’m recently single and one of the reasons is that I felt my ex treated my MH as a ‘problem’ that needed to be ‘fixed’ before we could have a good relationship…”
“don’t let anyone manipulate you by saying that your illness is stopping them from living their life properly or is a burden. That’s negativity you don’t need.”
Of course – negotiating the challenges of mental health in a relationship is difficult, so your partner might not get everything right from the off.
However if they are accepting of the situation, and willing to invest their time and love and support towards your shared goals (your mutual wellbeing and the wellbeing of your relationship) then you are in a strong position.
“I think accepting that this is part of who the person you are with is important, and making them feel valued and support while they are going through it is crucial, rather than making them feel like all good things are on hold til they get better”
“It has taken a long time for him to get to this level though because it is a lot of information to take in, and he’s still learning new ways to help me every day”
If you’re in a relationship – be it romantic, or otherwise – where both of you value, support and care for the other, you’re very lucky. You have someone to stand alongside as you face the challenges (and joys!) life throws your way.
You’re in it together, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.