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Depression and Relationships – Living with a Depressed Spouse

It’s not easy living and loving someone who struggles with depression, but your care, support and compassion can make a big difference.

Here are 11 ways for boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses to help those they love overcome depression:

1. Get as educated as you can about the disease, its treatments and any signs that indicate worsening depression. You can’t offer meaningful help unless you really understand the disease.

2. Encourage treatment. Feeling a little better is not good enough when effective treatments are available that really work. If someone you love is fighting depression, they need help; and anything you can do to make that happen is a good thing.

3. Do not belittle the problem. It can be frustrating to love a person who behaves in sometimes hurtful ways, but you have to remember that depression is a real illness - just as real as cancer or diabetes or any other physical illness. Try to understand the illness and its effects on the person you love and don’t say things that minimize its effects on behavior, like, “get over yourself”, “cheer up already” or “it’s all in your head.”

4. A person with depression may have a lot of inertia and be unable to get the energy up to arrange for therapies and other activities in life. Try to help out by coming up with suggestions and options, so that they can move into action with a minimum of effort beforehand. Instead of saying, “You you should look into attending a support group for people with depression.” Say – “I looked into support groups for people with depression and found two different groups that meet around here. These are the times they meet at. Would you like to try one of these? I will help you to get there if you’d like.”

5. But though you can help a lot by coming up with suggestions and offering your encouragement, you need to understand that sometimes your best efforts and good intentions will be met with apathy, rejection, anger or derision. This is the nature of the disease and you need to try not to take this personally. It is not your spouse that acts this way...it is the disease.

6. Help the person follow through with treatment plans. People with depression can feel hopeless and apathetic and often just give up on treatment that would have worked – if only they’d followed through! Do everything you can to help by scheduling appointments for them, providing transport and company for doctors’ appointments, reminding about medication times etc.

7. Try to get your partner out of the house and engaged in enjoyable activities, such as exercise, a trip to the movies, etc.

8. Find someone that you can talk to about your situation. Loving someone with depression is never easy, and there may be times when you near a breaking point. You will benefit greatly if you have someone you can talk to about what you are going through, such as a counselor or therapist, a member of the clergy or a supportive friend or family member.1

9. Recognize that you can’t and should not do everything for your partner. You should not try to live their life for them, but you can do little things, such as extra chores around the house, to take some of the burdens of everyday living away from a person who is struggling.

10. Don’t dismiss talk of suicide. If your partner talks about ending his or her life and especially if he or she acquires the tools to do so (such as by buying a gun) or otherwise makes a suicide plan, get an emergency psychological evaluation at your local ER

11. Remember that you need to take care of yourself too. If you let yourself get too stressed or worn out then you won’t be as able to offer meaningful assistance when it counts. Take time to look after your physical and mental health when you need it. 2

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