Relationships & Depression: How to support each other

Support is essential when we 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.

Depression & Relationships How to support each other

When we’re struggling with depression, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to be with us. We feel utterly unloveable, and may lash out or withdraw. Our depression can be so all-consuming it feels easier just to push our loved ones away.

Things are equally difficult if we’re in a relationship with someone who is depressed. We may feel frustrated by their condition, bewildered by their behaviour, and powerless to help.

Despite these challenges, it is still possible to keep our relationships healthy when depression intervenes.

Every relationship – and every experience of depression – is different, but with the help of our community we’ve identified five strategies that can help keep our relationship strong.

BE HONEST

Honesty is so important in a relationship. If we suffer from depression, it’s important to be open about this with our partner – even though this can feel daunting. Being honest helps our loved one understand us, and enables them to support us 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 our partner has summoned the courage to be honest with us about their mental health issues, it’s important to be honest back. If we are worried, or confused, or unsure – say so. If we have questions – ask them. Our 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 we use a mask, we need to let our partner see behind it. If we’re the supporting partner – remember that it exists.

HAVE EMPATHY

Although we can’t live in our partner’s head, we can put yourself in their shoes.

If we are in a relationship with someone with depression, we need to remain mindful that although we 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 we struggle with depression, we need to remember that the situation is tough for our partner too. They will feel frustrated that they can’t alleviate our 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 we view our situation through our loved one’s eyes, it’s easier to understand how they are feeling and what they are going through.

COMMUNICATE

Good communication is incredibly important in a relationship. We need to feel able to express our thoughts and feelings, explain our behaviours, and advise on how we’d like our needs to be met.

Encourage each other to talk – and LISTEN objectively.

If our partner struggles with depression, be patient. Remember mental illness isn’t logical, and our loved one may be just as confused by it as we are.

We 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 we struggle with depression, we need to try and find ways to communicate how we are feeling and what we need in a way our 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”.

We can also offer our partner some practical advice about how they can help us:

“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, there is lots of information online (such as our resources page) that we can point them to.

Finally, if someone is caring for us it’s good to tell them that we’re grateful for their support.  A kind word during a tough time can make all the difference.

BuddyBox

SUPPORT EACH OTHER

There are many different ways we 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 we’re supporting someone with depression, it’s important to get support for ourselves too.

It’s vital for our own emotional wellbeing to take time out from caring to care for ourselves.

Remember support from outside of our relationship can be incredibly helpful too – we don’t just have to manage this between ourselves.

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.

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 we both go through a bad patch simultaneously, it is extra important that we get outside support. That way we are better equipped to be there for each other.

Sadly, not all relationships are partnerships. If we struggle with depression, and our partner is unwilling to try and understand how things are for us or offer support, we need to question whether this is a healthy relationship for us 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 our 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 shared goals (our mutual wellbeing and the wellbeing of your relationship) we 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 we’re in a relationship – be it romantic, or otherwise – where we both value, support and care for the other, we’re very lucky. We have someone to stand alongside as you face the challenges (and joys!) life throws our way.

We’re in it together, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.

 

  • Pinky

    Hi, I have been reading through the discussions and can say that I can relate to a lot of it.
    I have currently been with my boyfriend for three years. For the first two years I would say that everything was okay, but I believe that was because we were still in the honeymoon stage. I noticed though that the more I became comfortable around him the more depressed I became.
    I sometimes just come home moody or snap out at him for no reason. I know he doesn’t like it, and I know it affects our relationship. There are times where I feel suicidal but feel like I cant discuss it as I know it will only bring stress to his life. I really don;t feel like im worth alot , and I definitely don’t feel like he still loves me. I try really hard to make him happy but it is just so difficult when I am feeling down myself. Over the past few months I have found myself getting jealous of other girls he speaks to, I believe this is down to me always doubting myself and thinking i’m not good enough for him, especially when I compare myself to the girls he speaks to who are slim and always so happy. I am just wanting some advice on what I can do to improve my mood

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  • beth

    Hi thanks for this article. I am the partner of someone who has only recently admitted to suffering from depression. Not yet seeked professional help as it’s only something he has admitted to me in the last few days. He is very good at concealing his emotions and sometimes doesnt talk to me for days on end. we have been together for nearly four years and i just feel like he is pushing me away. i try 110% every day to try and do little things to cheer him up but its so difficult when you receive nothing back. My partner plays part time football and has said to me numerous times its the only time he feels happy because he can forget about everything else. This is very hard for me to hear as i try everything to make him happy and cannot.
    He says things like i deserve better and i know i do, but i am in love with my partner and dont want to give up on him. I’m hoping things get better but i feel i might just have to walk away for my own mental health. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. At the end of my teather.

    • Mitch Martin

      Hi Beth, I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling like this. Sometimes those of us with Depression can forget it’s not only hard for us but those close to us as well. Encourage your partner to get help and be open with him about how you feel. Sometimes we need to be reminded our partners have an equal right to voice their emotions too! Don’t let your hopes and fears be pushed to one side. He might not even realize you feel this way. If he’s talking, that’s a really good thing (even if all he talks about is how bad he’s feeling). It takes a great deal of trust to open up to someone for the first time about this illness, he must have a lot of trust in you to finally do this. But it’s only a first step. If the relationship is to survive it will need constant little steps toward you understanding more about the illness and him seeking help outside the relationship. Another little bit of advice is, don’t put 110% in every day. Just do what you are comfortable doing. You’re allowed to be human and have days were you can’t always be the one giving. Be careful you’re not both coasting into a codependent situation. Your partner probably wouldn’t expect you to be giving more than you’re comfortable with and again, he might have no understanding of how you’re feeling with that. Talk to him. Ask him if he can make some time to chat about how to maintain a healthy balance in the relationship. Steer him clear of self loathing and just gently bring the conversation round to how best to move forward in a way you both feel supported. Things can get better.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      We’re so sorry you are going through this Beth. We hope your partner has been able to speak to his GP and get the help he deserves.

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  • Yiu

    Thank you for your writing. I completely agree with all the points you have made. As a depressive in a relationship, it is easy to project your frustrations onto your partner. With love from my partner and their unconditional support through everything, I was lucky enough to find a way out when it felt like nothing could ever be right again. It’s tough now, but I cope. Now my partner is manifesting the same symptoms I recognize from my bout with the illness. To be honest- and I am very proud of her for this fact- she has opened up to me after what must have been a strenuous internal struggle for them. It’s hard to explain it, the mind can’t comprehend what’s happening, or has been happening for a while by then. During my depression, I wouldn’t have believed there to be a way out either if someone told me there was. Depression has the ability to envelop you completely, you walk as if in a bubble. We are long-distance, and I feel powerless to help her. In my depression, I have been aware of just nothingness juxtaposed against a chaos of emotions at times.
    Honesty is the first step.
    It’s scary for both of you in the relationship; trust them through their tough and easier times, be there for them. Tell them you understand. I am still thinking this through, trying to chart out what I can do for my partner. But, whatever they decide to do, you do it with them every step of the way.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Thank you so much for your comment lovely.

  • Sarah

    I am somebody who used to suffer from bad depression when I was younger. I’m married now to a man who has been so supportive of me over 9 years since I was 16 (I’m 25 now). I used to lash out at him a lot and say things I didn’t mean. So I also want to say that it is important to make sure that if you have hurt your partners feelings with what you have said, that you do make sure they know that you didn’t mean it and that you do apologise. Depression is horrible and has such an ugly side. It’s difficult for yourself and any partner who’s in the relationship and is trying to help on your bad days. Because on the bad days, I used to end up bringing my husband down as well simply because I was distant, snappy and withdrew from him because I felt as if I didn’t deserve him. At the time, I thought he was being stupid, I thought that he didn’t care about me at all because he seemed to always be down when I was. But looking back, it was because I would snap, lash out and act distant with him so he probably ended up thinking it was his fault. Even so, he always tried to help me and always assured me that nothing was ever my fault.

    So I just want to also put out that during your time, if you lash out at your partner, and they told you that you hurt them by what you said, remember that they are trying to help you so just make sure that they know it wasn’t personal. My husband always told me it wasn’t my fault anyway, but I know that I sometimes did hurt him.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      That’s a really good point you have made Sarah. Thank you so much for your comment. Your husband sounds like a lovely man – we wish you both so much happiness.

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  • Anon

    My boyfriend knew about my mental health the moment he met me. I’ve been with him 7 years and we have a child together. I knew he was a desensitized man and almost robotic but there was a small time where he was good with me during difficult times and things were ok. Now he is never there for me, he gets angry when I’m down and ignores me. I lie in bed sometimes crippled by my emotions and if he wants to ignore me that’s ok although still lonely. But it’s when he gets mad at me for being depressed that is the worst. He triggers off my condition, I dissociate and become entirely different people. It’s a shame because I’ve been doing such good work in therapy and don’t dissociate as much anymore, but I do when I’m with him. He expects me to be a lovely girlfriend and make him happy as he is “having such a difficult time at work” (basically choosing to work too much). I understand it’s distressing for him as he has had no traumatic experiences in his entire life and has his mum and dads support even at age 31. I wish he’d experienced even a year of my life!!! I’m starting to feel like it’s better if I just disappear, I haven’t attempted suicide in four years now but I’m starting to slip. What annoys me is that he says he wants to stay with me and claims to love me yet he is intolerant of my mental health. It’s not just depression I’ve got, I’m very mentally ill and have a few conditions. I don’t know what to do anymore, I’m so lost. How can I make him understand?

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Hello. We’re so sorry to hear you’re both having a hard time, we know that two mental health conditions under one roof can be really tough.

      The thing is, your partner is never going to completely understand how this feels for you, because he cannot walk in your shoes. Which is no one’s fault. But what you can both do is help each other on the steps to recovery. Check in with your GP and look into some therapy such as CBT. This is the first step you can take in supporting each other.

      Wishing you the very best of luck <3

  • Pb

    Hi I have been reading the articles on supporting your partner with depression and while all this is what I am Doing I really feel I need some additional guidance. I have been with my bf for 2 years now but known him for around 6 he is a very kind person who has always treated me very well. 3 years ago he lost his mum and through himself into work despite us saying take the foot off the gas. So in September of last year he just broke and has been off since N tried 2 different medications he is still struggling he is exercising, sourced grief counselling and tried nlp. However he just can’t get rid of the anxiety and depression. Most of which he is saying caused by his guilt of not being able to get back to himself and us. The medication he is on is mirtazapin which apparently can make the symptoms worse? I am at the centre of his guilt in terms of feeling guilty for the love and investment I have put into our relationship and him not being able to feel anything n he scared it will be like this forever. Has anyone else experienced this type of behaviour? Any advice? I have tried reassuring his but the more time I spend the more I feel I am being resented.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      We really recommend that your partner continue with counselling or CBT to deal with anxiety and depression. Although his bereavement has most likely brought on these conditions, they may need to be dealt with separately as isolated issues. We also really recommend ensuring he’s keeping his doctor well informed of any shifts. It can take some time to find the right medication, and it may be that a change of tablet or dosage could be in order. Meanwhile, it sounds like you’re being very supportive. Unfortunately all of these symptoms are very common with anxiety and depression – neither of you are alone. Sometimes just realising that and being able to normalise things are a big help. Good luck.

  • steven

    I desperately need advice off yourself or anyone whos been going though what I’m currently going though. I’m 28 and my partner also is, We have been together two years at the start of the relationship everything was fine call it the honeymoon period. After a couple of months i found out my partner had been in a domestic violence relationship and has aniexty problems. She was up and down in her moods and had weight issues where she constantly saying she was fat when she was far from fat. I tryed comforting her by saying she was beautiful ignore what other people are saying but she would go silent on me and get very withdrawn. Her aniexty got really bad and shes currently suffering from a bad case of depression i struggle to understand how to comfort her anything i say is wrong. We are rowing over petty things and i dont want this to ruin our relationship can you please give me advice she goes very withdrawn doesnt want to be round anyone other than her son. I dont no what to say when she goes like this please help another thing is she used to be very affectionate she no longer wants me touching her or anything

    • Anon

      Is she in therapy? That would be very important. You sound like a very decent man, you’re doing the right thing by trying to comfort her regardless of how it’s taken. Deep down she will know that you truely care for her. A few years ago I had anorexia, which was just a symptom of another mental health condition. I was a whole different person. I know looking back, I wasn’t really with it. The mental health and obsessive thoughts of weight consumes you and there’s nothing left to give anybody, you’re a shell walking around. She will have alot of trust issues after her abusive relationship, don’t lose your patience with her and confirm her distrust in men. Be calm. If you love this woman and can see through her depression, hang on in there through her therapy. When she comes out the other side, she will see how incredible you’ve been and you will be able to get to know the real person that she is underneath that cloud of depression. If she doesn’t help herself though I doubt things will improve. I’m only advising based on experience and what I believe a depressed woman would want from a man

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Hi Steven. We definitely recommend the first port of call for you both is a doctor and some form of counselling. Combined, these professionals should be able to help our partner understand and manage what’s happening. If you need further support regarding body image issues, there are some great specialised resources on this page that can really help: http://blurtitout.org/get-support/.

  • MissE

    What if the depressed person ‘lashes out’ so much it becomes abusive? How understanding do you need to be? I am in my sons bed tonight because my depressed husband told me to f### off out of our bed, an a few other choice words too. It’s hard, and it’s not a good way to live. I know it is the depression talking, not him, but do I not have a right to a vaguely normal and happy life too?

    • Boyseys Mum

      You need to put yourself first, if you feel frightened them dont hesitate to ring the Police. Explain to your husband that even though he is depressed you wont tolerate his abuse. You are entitled to a decent life as well. If he does it again, you need to think about the future of your relationship.Get some support from your family and friends.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Hello. We’re so sorry to hear about this, it must be truly awful. We’re not best placed to give advice on this, however there’s a list of people here that can help with this kind of domestic issue: http://blurtitout.org/get-support/.

  • Scarlet Paisley

    While I thought this was overall quite a good article, it really doesn’t address the difficulties of being in a relationship where you both suffer from mental illness. For example dealing with situations where neither one of you is able to ask for or accept support is really difficult. I also think it fosters a limited view of relationships where your partner is your entire support system. In my experience, that is pretty unfair for your partner, and branching out to include friends and other close ones in your support network is crucial to maintaining a balanced and supportive relationship.

    • Lotte Lane

      Hi Scarlet, thanks for your input. We have edited the post a little to try and reflect your very valid points.