Depression is the most predominant mental health condition worldwide.
The symptoms of depression include feeling extremely low for extended periods of time, low feelings of self worth, hopelessness, lethargy, apathy, loss of appetite and sleep disturbances.
There are also socioeconomic factors which can make people more susceptible or vulnerable to symptoms of depression such as belonging to black, asian or ethnic minority groups, young males, the LGBTQ+ community, victims of abuse, having learning disabilities, substance abuse and homelessness.
However, depression does not discriminate and can affect anybody, regardless of sexual identity, race, age, religion or socioeconomic background.
There is no real improvement in suicide rates and a large part of this is a lack of education and awareness in talking about and dealing with mental health.
Not talking about it doesn’t improve the situation, in fact the statistics reflect that this makes it worse, so having an open forum to discuss what is happening with our mental health and our relationships is long overdue.
It can be difficult knowing what to do or what to say when the person you are in a relationship with becomes a shadow of their former self, entering into the abyss of depression.
You might be feeling helpless and that there is nothing you can do, but there are ways you can help support your spouse to manage and cope with their depression.
Firstly, notice the possible signs of depression that can indicate they are in need of professional help.
Are they behaving out of character?
Is there a significant change in eating habits or sleeping habits?
Are they more short-tempered or snapping often?
Are they taking less pride or care in their appearance?
Do they talk about feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness?
A persistent low mood for a prolonged period of time may be a cause for concern. Its common to feel helpless or overwhelmed in this situation, however there are some steps you can take to help them and also support yourself through this difficult time.
Take some time to really listen to how your spouse/friend/family member is feeling.
Be open-minded and try to be non-judgemental when they begin to open up about what might be causing distress.
It might feel uncomfortable or difficult to hear, particularly if you feel some of these comments are not in your favour, but try to remain calm.
As difficult as it is, try to remain impartial, as the way they are feeling about themselves and their situation is coming from a place of being depressed.
It’s really not about you, as difficult as it is, try to bracket your own feelings of not being good enough as their symptoms of depression is not a reflection of you.
Focus on the fact that you are more concerned with their wellbeing rather than the uncomfortable feelings it may evoke.
Encouraging them to talk about their experience is helpful towards facilitating recovery.
It is also reassuring that they are able to trust you with their feelings during their time of need.
It is very likely this will involve a process of listening rather than just one conversation.
People who are depressed are likely to be withdrawn so it will take some gentle encouragement to get them to open up.
2. Seek professional help
If you are concerned about the mental wellbeing of a loved one, advise them to seek help from a health care professional.
While it is important to listen, you are not a therapist and there is only so much that you can do.
It’s completely normal for you to feel overwhelmed when you have a limited understanding of what depression is really like.
The best way you can help someone is to make sure that they get the right kind of help and support from a qualified professional.
Counselling and psychotherapy is a recognised treatment for depression.
It can be difficult to muster up the motivation to even look for a counsellor when you are depressed and this is where you can really help.
Find a therapist that is experienced and that you think your loved one can connect with.
Introduce them to the idea and help them to schedule a call with a therapist to discuss how they can help.
Encourage your loved to one to visit their GP who can confirm if what they are experiencing is in fact depression, or rule out any other possible physical causes. You can also discuss the options of medication, but I would always recommend talking therapy as a first port of call depending on the severity of the situation.
3. Encourage self-care
As a lack of motivation and low self worth are common symptoms of depression, this can make even the most basic of self care tasks feel completely overwhelming.
However, it is really important to take care of your basic needs such as eating, showering and getting fresh air.
You can gently be in support of this by helping out where you can and offering support and encouragement.
When you are worried and concerned about a loved one, sometimes that worry can come out as sounding like frustration or anger.
This is quite normal, as the outside portrayal of expressing of anger can be more about you feeling underlying feelings of fear.
With this is mind, it’s really important for you and your loved one that you remain as patient as you can, and realise that it’s okay to feel frustrated when this has an emotional impact on you too.
4. Involve trusted family and friends
Depression can be an isolating illness, try not to let it also isolate you from your support network.
It is not your responsibility to make your partner better, but you can offer support with the help of family and friends that you both can trust.
Unfortunately there is still stigma attached to depression and feelings around shame about asking for help.
Often people who are depressed do not want those around them to know how they’re feeling as they do not want to cause other people to worry.
However, the best way to approach a recovery to wellness comes from being able to ask for help, from a professional and from the support of your trusted family and friends who care about you and want to see you get better.
5. Look after yourself
Do not feel guilty for wanting to create some space for yourself and escape the feelings of sadness.
While you may be empathic towards your spouse, it is really important for you to be able to maintain your sense of self and take care of you.
Keep doing the things that are good for your well being, socialise, see friends, allow yourself to experience happiness.
Having a support network for your partner who is depressed can allow you the time to do this for yourself.
If you are really concerned about leaving your partner on their own for safety reasons, that is a huge responsibility to take on.
If this does become the case, it’s advisable to seek immediate support from the emergency services, GP, or your local mental health out of hours service.
Depression can feel overwhelming and consuming, but with the right help things can get better.
If you are concerned about the safety of a loved one, then do not be afraid to seek medical support from emergency services.
These links provide further information and support on issues related to depression and mental health.
https://www.samaritans.org You can call 116 123 for the 24 hour help line.
Recommended reading: Matt Haig has written a wonderful autobiographical account of his experience with depression, Reasons to Stay Alive. It is an accessible short book that I recommend to clients and their loved ones to read. It provides a personal account about the experience of depression and helps to give further insight into what depression can feel like, but most importantly, the real idea of hope. Click the image of the book to purchase your own copy, if you purchase via the link I will receive a small commission.
I’m Lizandra Leigertwood and I run my private practice from St Albans, Hertfordshire. I help people who are having a difficult time with their mental health to find better ways of coping with life difficulties. To book a consultation, you can email in confidence here.