According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people world-wide suffer from Depression. Chances are, you or someone you love has experienced a depressive episode at some point. While sadness or grief are normal human emotions, Depression can be another beast entirely. Depression can take the form of extreme sadness, insomnia, lack or increase in appetite, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, isolation, loss of pleasure or excitement, anxiety, apathy, anger, shame, and guilt.
Depression can be a single episode or recurring, even lasting as long as several years, also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder or Dysthymia. It can also occur after giving birth, Post-Partum Depression, or as part of Bipolar Disorder where depression is met with periods of mania or extreme highs in mood. Since depression, while treatable can be very debilitating, it can have an effect on the relationships that a person has. Depression can lead to drug or alcohol abuse, social isolation, job loss, low self-esteem, and “feeling like a burden” to those around them.For many, having depression comes with crushing guilt, fearing that you’re an anchor, pushing people away from the black hole that seems to have swallowed you up. Loving someone with depression comes with crushing helplessness, feeling like no matter what you do, how unconditionally you love someone, you cannot change how they feel. Both sides may feel like they aren’t enough and never will be. In some ways that is true, we cannot rely on others to “fix” us. People who suffer from Depression need to seek help from a mental health professional to determine a course of treatment.So how do deal with the emotions that come up when loving someone experiencingdepression? How do I cope with feeling alone in the relationship because the other person is battling their own demons?Here are a few things to consider:1. Depression is not a choice or a feeling that someone can just “get over”– It is not a passing mood or a bad day. It is also not helpful to suggest that the depressed person is doing something wrong or that they can get out of a bad mood if they just “insert unhelpful phrase here”. It is not a choice, many need professional help in order to get better.2. It’s okay to feel frustrated- Those who love and support someone experiencing depression can feel overwhelmed or like they are walking on eggshells. In order to prevent burnout, recognize when you need to practice healthy boundary setting and self care. Show love and kindness without sacrificing your own needs and happiness.3. It’s not about you– Someone with depression may be more irritable or seem aloof. Remember, these are symptoms of depression and are not always about you. Often with depression, someone might push loved ones away due to the negative guilt spirals of “not being good enough” or the multitude of other untruths that the brain will try to convince them of. Try not to take it personal. Gently allow them to know that you love them and are there for them.4. Spend time with them without expectations– Sometimes it’s just better to have someone around without the pressure to have to entertain them. Loneliness and isolation is something that many people experience during depression. Consider sitting next to them and reading a book, offer to talk or not, or put together a comfortable space for them. Spending quality time without trying to “fix” them could be all they need.5. Don’t demand positivity– It can be an automatic response to want to cheer up adepressed person. Although this behavior might seem rooted in kindness, sometimes it can be smothering to the person with depression or invalidate their feelings, making them feel even more alone. This goes back to #1, depression isn’t a mood to get over, it’s more complicated and adding the pressure to always be positive or look at the bright side can be interpreted at “this isn’t okay and you shouldn’t feel this way”.6. Antidepressants can affect their sex drive– Although sex can be a mood booster, depression can be a libido killer. This can have a serious effect on romantic relationships. A common side effect of antidepressants is a decreased sex drive or difficulty getting an erection. Some might also experience a delayed or blocked orgasm. Most experts will agree that despite the sexual side effects, Depression should be treated first. So encourage them to talk to their doctor about finding one that works for them, but also talk to your partner about sex and what kinds of intimacy they are comfortable with during their depression.7. It’s okay to ask about their feelings– If you think someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, or you are noticing some of the warning signs, it is okay to ask them about it. Talking about suicide won’t encourage them to do it. Suicidal ideation is a common experience with Depression. Consider offering to call the hotline together or help them notify a family member they trust. You can also help them find a therapist or in cases of emergency, call 911.