It isn't easy to figure out when to step in when a
partner is depressed. If they're sleeping all day, pushing you away, or shutting down, you'll probably feel a bit helpless yourself — even though you really want to make them feel better. To say it's a tough situation for all involved is an understatement, and yet it's one that countless couples encounter every day.
Depression impacts about
16.2 million adults in the US, and while there are many different types — and it always manifests differently person to person — symptoms often include loss of energy, lack of interest in activities, hopelessness, guilt, and anger, which in turn means your partner will likely struggle to function on a daily basis.
It can be complicated, stressful, and scary. But you can help, in some small way, by being there for them. "Social support is important to emotional well-being,"
Marla Deibler, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. And this is particularly true for those with depression, she says. Being there for your partner, even if it's simply as a shoulder to cry on, is invaluable.
That said, you aren't their therapist, and you shouldn't feel like you have to be. It's important to know your limitations, and to continue taking good care of yourself. But if your partner is
going through something difficult like depression, you can certainly find ways to make their life a little bit easier by being supportive, advocating for them, and lending a hand. Here are 15 ways to help, according to experts. 1 Educate Yourself
First and foremost, it's important to
educate yourself about depression by taking the time to do research.
Specifically, learn about "the nature of your partner's [type of] depression,"
Ritu Reimer, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle. Have they been diagnosed with major depressive disorder? Bipolar? Bipolar II? Seasonal affective disorder?
"Knowledge is power," Reimer says. By better understanding what's going on, you can better support your partner, and advocate for their needs.
2 Ask Them How They'd Like To Be Helped
"Too often we assume what another person needs based on how we would like support,"
Dr. Jessica, a licensed psychologist, tells Bustle.
If you like to be cuddled, for example, you might think your partner likes to be cuddled, too.
But since everyone's different, it's important to figure out what they actually prefer, she says. Talk about it, and honor what they need.
3 Be Fully Present When They Want To Talk
Not everyone with depression will want to talk about how they feel. But if your partner needs to vent or cry, try to be fully present in those moments, whenever possible.
"Giving your partner undivided attention when they are sharing with you is [the key to helping them feel] supported,"
Dr. Kimberly Ciardella, LMFT tells Bustle. "This means cellphone away, TV off, and other responsibilities put on hold. Listen without judgment." 4 Let Them Know It's OK If They Don't Want To Talk
That said, your partner might also want to sit around in silence — sometimes for hours on end — and that's OK, too. Don't feel like you need to fill the quiet moments, Ciardella says, because "it may be something they need."
Same goes for texts. Answering messages can be extremely overwhelming when you're depressed, so let your partner know it's fine if they can't write back right away. Once you assure them you won't be mad or upset, it'll be like you're lifting a giant weight off their shoulders.
5 Help Them Keep A Mood Log
If they're open to the idea, help your partner assess how they feel — whether it's in an app or an actual journal meant to track their ups and downs.
"Mood logs are important in tracking when moods are elevated or normal and keeping track of what was going on during that time to help treat symptoms before it gets too severe,"
Dr. Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "In keeping a mood log, you will be able to identify if they are going through an episode so you can better support them." 6 Include Them, Even If They Reject Attention
"Depression is a very isolating condition and it can be hard for the loved one's of a person with depression to keep reaching out when their invitations are constantly declined,"
Megan E. Johnson, PhD, a psychological assistant, tells Bustle. "But it is crucial that the individual with depression always knows [they are] wanted and included."
And that means sending a text with an invitation to meet up, even if you're positive they'll say no. "People with depression can be hypersensitive to the effect that this illness has on their loved ones," Johnson says. "Hearing that [you] want them around can be so refreshing — even if they aren't able to participate all the time."
7 Let Them Know It's OK If They Need Alone Time
It can be tough if your partner seems cold, or if they ask to be left alone. But try not to take it personally. Better yet,
allow them that alone time, without making a big deal.
"Understanding that and not taking it personally will allow space for your partner to take the time that they need," Ciardella says. It's all about walking that line between showing that you care, and giving them space to focus on themselves.
Give it a day, or a couple of days, and then
check in with them again. 8 Validate Their Feelings
When your partner is sitting around with slumped shoulders and a long face, you might feel the urge to tell them to "cheer up." But keep in mind depression isn't sadness, or something a person can choose to snap out of.
"Sometimes people just feel depressed for no good reason," Johnson says. "In that case, it's not helpful to point out how great their life is and how they have no reason to be sad. They likely already know that and feel guilty about it. You saying they have nothing to be depressed about can come off as dismissive."
Instead, try to come from a place of empathy. "Say things like, 'I can't imagine what that must feel like' or offer 'Is there anything I can do to help?' You don't need to be an expert or understand from a place of experience in order to be supportive," Johnson says. "You simply need to be present and accepting of their feelings."
9 Be A Resource
While you can't expect to fix your partner all on your own, you can certainly help them on their journey to feeling better — even if it's just by making a phone call, running an errand, or scheduling their next appointment with a therapist.
"Be a resource," Deibler says. "Offer assistance in helping them access the mental health care they need. Sometimes, taking that first step in treatment is the most challenging."
10 Encourage Them To Stick With A Treatment Plan
They'll probably have a hard time getting up, Johnson says, so take it upon yourself to encourage your partner to meet (or Zoom call) with their therapist.
Send them an encouraging text an hour before their appointment. Offer to sit with them during. Or check in afterward, to see how it went.
"These things can really motivate a person with depression to get the help they need," Johnson says.
11 Celebrate Their Successes
"For someone with depression, doing simple everyday tasks can feel overwhelming," Dr. Jessica says. So if your partner gets out of bed, cooks dinner, or attends even just a half day of work, let them know they did a great job. "Celebrate those wins without being condescending," she says.
By simply acknowledging small successes like these, you'll be encouraging your partner to do more of the same.
12 Be Understanding If They Continue To Feel Bad
Again, you can't "fix" your partner's depression, or hurry them on the road to feeling better. "All you can do is stand beside them while they learn to heal themselves," Ciardella says.
Give them space, time, and support, for however long they need it. And "remind yourself that it is OK to not have solutions," she says. As long as you're there, and listening, you're doing the right thing.
13 Focus On The Future
It might be tough for your partner to envision a brighter future right now, so go ahead and do it for them. While you won't want to spew rainbows 24/7, you can still be future-focused,
Stephanie Crane, LMSW, a clinical social worker, tells Bustle.
What does that mean? It means dreaming out loud, talking about goals for the future, and including your partner in them.
They'll find it reassuring that you still have hope, and that they aren't burdening you or "ruining" your life by being depressed.
14 Remember To Take Care Of Yourself
Since it's often tiring to support someone — regardless of what they're going through — don't forget to
take care of your own well-being. Keep an eye out for feelings of fatigue, hopelessness, and even anger. And know when to take a break.
"Find outlets for expression of these and other needs through alternative avenues, [like talking to] friends, supportive family, [going to] therapy, etc.," Ciardella says. And don't feel bad if that means stepping away for a moment. Remember, you can't help anyone if you aren't OK yourself.
15 Don't Give Up On Them
Depressive symptoms can make someone unrecognizable. If you start feeling hopeless, remind yourself that your partner isn't their depression,
Laura Fonseca, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle.
"They're still there," she says. "Remind them that you know that." And keep being a positive support system.
Sources: Marla Deibler, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Jessica, licensed psychologist Dr. Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist Ritu Reimer, MA, LPC, therapist Stephanie Crane, LMSW, clinical social worker Megan E. Johnson, PhD, psychological assistant Marla Deibler, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Kimberly Ciardella, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist Laura Fonseca, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker Laura Fonseca, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker