15 Ways To Support A Partner With Depression That Are Actually Helpful
When you're in a relationship, whatever your partner deals with, you deal with. And vice versa. So if your partner is depressed, it's imperative that you know how to handle it in a healthy, helpful, and supportive way — for the sake of each partner's mental health.
Watching your partner go through something difficult like depression can be tough on you both of you. You might not know what to do or say. And they might feel bad that they're "putting you through it." But there are ways to be loving and supportive, understanding and helpful, compassionate and encouraging — so that you can both come out on the other side feeling cared for.
Even by simply being there, and lending an understanding shoulder to cry on, you can make a world of difference. "Social support is important to emotional well-being," licensed clinical psychologist Marla Deibler, Psy.D. tells Bustle. "Those who struggle with depression tend to isolate themselves from others and it is not uncommon for them to reject help. Therefore, it is so important for loved ones to support those in their lives who are struggling with depression."
By taking care of yourself, and knowing how to take care of your partner — even in little ways — you can truly support them in a way that's actually helpful. Here are a few tips from the experts:
1. Educate Yourself
First and foremost, it'll be important to educate yourself about depression, what it is, and how it works. "Learn about depression and about the nature of your partner's specific depression," therapist Ritu Reimer, MA, LPC tells Bustle. "Knowledge is power." And by better understanding depression, you can be a better help and advocate for your partner's needs.
2. Let Them Know They're Not Alone
Depression might cause your partner to have a negative view of themselves, the world, and their future, Reimer says, so it'll be important to validate those feelings rather than dismiss them, while also assuring them they aren't alone. "As presumed as it may seem, it is very valuable to say it and show it," she says.
3. Be Fully Present When They Want To Talk
Not everyone with depression will want to or be able to talk about their condition. But if your partner needs to talk, try to be fully present for it. "Giving your partner undivided attention when they are sharing with you is [important] to them feeling 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
If your partner wants to open up and vent or talk about their feelings, be there to listen, but let them know it's also OK if they don't want to. "Do not try to fill the quiet moments," Ciardella says. "Although you may feel that you want to stop your partner from crying or sharing pain, it may be something they need. Make space for whatever emotion they are feeling."
5. Empower Them In Little Ways
If your partner is struggling to complete even the simplest of tasks, that doesn't mean you should swoop in and do things for them. "Don't baby them, or lessen their responsibilities," says Stephanie Crane, LMSW. "Let them make decisions about the household, their career, their life. Don't turn them into a victim."
6. Invite Them Out, Even If They Don't Want To Go
Even if your partner wants to be left alone, or cancels plans on the regular, don't give up when it comes to inviting them out.
"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, Ph.D., of Sync Counseling Center, tells Bustle. "But it is crucial that the individual with depression always knows [they are] wanted and included. People with depression can be hypersensitive to the effect that this illness has on their loved ones and hearing that their loved ones 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 to watch your partner roll their back on you, cancel plans, or ask to be left alone. But try not to take it personally.
And better yet, allow them that alone time. "Recognize that your partner may need time to be alone," Ciardella says. "Do not be offended if they turn down your offer to talk or a lunch date. Understanding that and not taking it personally will allow space for your partner to take the time that they need."
8. Validate Their Feelings
When your partner is sitting around with slumped shoulders and a long face, it can be tempting to try to rationalize or explain why they shouldn't feel so bad. And yet, it's important to remember that they're not just in a bad mood — they're depressed. And trying to "cheer them up" won't always help.
"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."
So try to come from a place of empathy instead. "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 and accepting of their feelings."
9. Remember To Take Care Of Yourself
Depression can be tough on you, the partner, so make sure that you're setting up healthy boundaries for yourself, and maintaining your own self-care.
But also be sure to manage your own reactions to your partner so that your feelings don't get hurt. "You will no doubt have many emotional reactions as you support your partner through their depression," Ciardella says. "Be aware of these things and find outlets for expression of these and other needs through alternative avenues (friends, supportive family, therapy, etc.). Understand that your partner may not be able to be as emotionally available to you during this time."
10. Give Them Plenty Of Time To Recover
When you see someone you love hurting, it can be tempting to try to rush their recovery along, or demand that they snap out of it. But sometimes there is no quick fix for depression, and all you can do is be there and support them along the way.
"While we want to shield our partners and protect them from pain, you cannot 'fix' your partner's depression," Ciardella says. "All you can do is stand beside them while the learn to heal themselves. Remind yourself that it is OK to not have solutions — your support and love during this time is all you can provide, and that’s OK!"
11. Keep Focusing On The Future
It might be tough for your partner to envision a brighter future, so go ahead and do it for them. "Be future-focused," Crane says. "Dream out loud. Include them in your dream." When they hear that you still have hope — and that they're not burdening you, or "ruining" anything — it can be quite reassuring.
12. Ask Them How They'd Like To Be Helped
Whenever you can, have a convo with your partner, and ask how they'd like to be treated, what they find helpful and supportive, etc. "Ask the questions about what happens when they go to their 'dark' place," mental health expert Michael David Feeney tells Bustle. "What's it like for them while they are really down? Get an idea of some of the ways your partner tried to work their way out of that place so you can help provide guidance and encouragement.
13. Be A Resource
While you can't 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 an appointment with a therapist.
"Be a resource," Diebler says. "Offer assistance in helping them access the mental health care they need. Sometimes, taking that first step in treatment is the most challenging."
14. Encourage Them To Seek Treatment
Whether it's taking medication, seeking therapy, or both, encourage your partner to seek treatment. "It can be so difficult for a person with depression to get out of bed and go see a therapist," says Johnson. "But if you offer ... to go with them to their appointment, or just to be there when they get home, or even just send an encouraging text message to motivate them," it all adds up. "These things can really motivate a person with depression to get the help they need."
15. Don't Give Up On Them
Even though it might seem like your partner is never going to get well, don't give up on them. "It is important, in your mind, to separate the depression out from your partner," counselor Laura Fonseca, LCSW tells Bustle. "Sometimes the depression may seem to be more present than your partner, but don’t give up on [them]. [They're] still there, and remind [them] that you know that."
By taking care of yourself, and doing what you can to support your partner, you can both get through this depression together.