By Eve Pearce
Depression is a major problem in Western society, affecting more and more people every year. When a partner is afflicted with this horrible disease, it can put a huge strain on a relationship.
While one partner becomes emotionally withdrawn, unmotivated, and perpetually sad, the other may become worried, frustrated, or wonder if this change is permanent and the person they love is lost forever. Depression is still a misunderstood condition. Its attendant emotions are very difficult for someone not suffering from it to comprehend, and even harder to witness in a loved one. If your partner is suffering from depression, the best thing to do is to seek professional help – both for their own sake and the sake of your relationship. Alongside this, there are a few important points to take on board to help you to understand, cope with, and help your suffering loved one.
Do Not Blame Yourself
When a partner becomes miserable, withdrawn, and lackluster, it is all too easy to begin apportioning blame. Often people blame themselves for their loved one’s melancholy, believing that they are no longer making their partner happy – or, indeed, that they are actively making them unhappy. This causes anxiety, stress, and sadness, and can exacerbate the problem as one partner makes increasingly misguided and attempts to rectify the situation. Self-blame – especially when it is unjustified – is deeply emotionally harmful, and can render you as depressed as your partner. It is important to remember that depression can strike anyone, for a variety of reasons – many of which are medical or completely unrelated to your relationship. While you may feel responsible for your partner’s emotional well-being, and frustratingly inadequate when that well-being fails, try not to think of their sadness as your fault. Concentrate on making them feel better, rather than worrying about what went wrong in the first place.
Do Not Judge Them
Some, on the other hand, may blame the depressed person for their state of mind. This may seem harsh but it is surprisingly common – and more understandable than you may think. From the outside, depression is a bewildering phenomenon. There can be a temptation to wonder why a depressed partner is ‘wallowing’ in their misery rather than getting to grips with their emotions and taking steps to cheer themselves up. It can be frustrating to witness someone doing what in your opinion is moping around rather than pulling on their boots and getting on with their lives. Blaming a depressed person for their state of mind, however, demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of the condition, and will only make things much worse. From the inside, depression is an appalling trap of sickeningly horrible thought and emotion from which it is nigh on impossible to escape. Depressed people are often afflicted with a constant barrage of personal negativity from inside their own heads – and blaming them for the way they are feeling and acting will only make them feel worse about themselves. Self-blame and a feeling that the negative judgment of others is completely justified are symptomatic of depressive thought cycles, so calling them out on their behavior or blaming them for their condition will merely confirm all their suspicions and drive them deeper into their misery. If you really do find you partner’s depression hard to understand and cope with, try talking gently to them about the way they are feeling. This may help you to sympathize rather than to blame.
Understand Postpartum Depression
In our child-adoring Western culture, one of the hardest forms of depression to understand is postpartum depression. This afflicts a high percentage of women, from all demographics and socio-economic situations, yet it still remains a deeply misunderstood condition. In a culture which sanctifies motherhood and waxes lyrical about the depth and joys of the mother-child bond, a mother who is depressed rather than suffused with nurturing happiness after the birth of her baby may seem like a worrying aberration. This is not the case. It is believed that postpartum depression is caused by changes in hormone levels following a birth, and it in no way means that your partner does not want or love her baby. If you are struggling to understand how to cope with postpartum depression at the same time as looking after the exhausting demands of a new baby, it may be a good idea to seek professional help or the support of friends and relatives. Above all, it is important not to judge or take out your frustrations upon the mother of your child. One of the worst things about postpartum depression is that sufferers often experience the lonely feeling that they have lost their personal identity beneath their new identity as mother of a child. This worries and distresses them at the same time as causing intense guilt for such an attitude. Try to treat them with the love and support you would have offered had they become depressed before giving birth, rather than castigating them for bad motherhood. Postpartum depression is a very lonely condition, as worrying for your partner as it is for you. Talking with your partner in a supporting, non-judgmental way can give you the opportunity to offer love, reassurance, and comfort.
Talk – But Don’t Trivialize
Of course, it can be very hard to know what to say to a depressed person. You want to make them feel better, but you can’t actually physically fix the problem. Often, depression causes emotional withdrawal so it can be hard to get your partner to engage with you on the problem – but it is important to talk about this, both so that they can be reassured by your love for them, and so that you can better understand what they are going through. Be gentle when trying to draw them out, but persistent. Do not nag, pester, or get frustrated if they withdraw, but do make a calm, kind point of insisting that you want to talk to them, to help them. Once you do get them to talk, however, remember that the help you offer must be of the emotional support variety. Do not attempt to solve their problems. Often they may talk about things that bother them, and your instinctive reaction will be to cry ‘But THAT is nothing to worry about! That is easily solved!’ and go on to offer solutions. This sort of thing runs the risk of trivializing what they see as a major issue, which will only cause them to withdraw further. Remember that the problem they state is not actually the problem – the problem is instead with their emotional reaction to it, caused by their underlying depression. Work on comforting and soothing their emotions rather than solving their problems, and you will find that they respond with an increased sense of emotional security which can be an enormous help.
When talking to a depressed person, always take what they say seriously – even if it sounds to you as though they are making mountains out of molehills and have nothing, really, to worry about. To them, these are big issues which are causing a lot of pain. Work on soothing the pain through making them feel valued and loved rather than judging their reactions and trying to tell them that their emotions are wrong or insignificant. Above all, let them know that you are there for them and that you love them. Depressed people frequently feel valueless as people. Reassure them that they are valuable to you. Remember that you cannot ‘cure’ them – your role is to offer emotional support. In order to combat the disease, encourage them to seek professional help.
About the author:
Eve Pearce spent a decade working as a nutritionist before motherhood made her change her outlook. Now she enjoys working from home as a writer, while still discussing the topics and issues that made her earlier career. When not writing, she likes to take long walks with her dogs, though sometimes it feels like they are taking her for a walk.