Depression can affect more than just the person diagnosed with the illness. In a relationship the collateral damage may include a breakdown in communication and a break down in sexual intimacy. People who are depressed often feel misunderstood and alone so they may stop telling those around them how they feel. The illness can also affect libido, making sexual intimacy a chore rather than a pleasurable experience. As a result, both partners are affected by the diagnosis.
Moreover, it is really difficult to watch a loved one struggle with depression. No one likes seeing their partner sad and tearful all the time. And often there is simply nothing you can do to make them feel better – leaving you helpless and powerless in the face of this illness.
There are a few things you can do to help your partner and yourself, minimising the damage in the relationship;
- Recognise the symptoms of depression in your partner. If they haven’t sought help as yet, encourage them to do so as this will be the biggest benefit to them and your relationship.
- Educate yourself (and your partner). Find out about what depression really entails. If you can get a better understanding of what your partner is going through it will help them feel understood and more inclined to lean on you for support.
- Get exercise. Exercise is beneficial for everyone, regardless of whether or not they are dealing with depression. Encouraging your partner to exercise with you not only gets them out and active, but also gives you some fun, quality time together.
- Find some support for yourself. Being a source of emotional support can be a draining job. It is important that you, too, have someone to lean on.
- Remind yourself that this is an illness. It is easy to forget that your partner is struggling with a mental illness and take things personally. Especially when they are grumpy and irritable all the time. Try to remember that they are not being malicious or hostile, but that they are struggling with a mood disorder.
- Understand the symptoms. Understand that depression often means a loss in libido and a withdrawal from social situations. This means that your partner more than likely is not in the mood for sex or going out much. Try to understand that these are symptoms of the illness and not a permanent change in your partner.
- Have patience. It is a very tall order and some days you will feel like running for the hills. Have patience and know that “this too shall pass”.
- Be kind to yourself. When your patience wears thin and you feel overwhelmed with caring for your partner, make sure you take some time out for yourself too. Pamper yourself and care for yourself. You are human, not a saint, and deserve some acknowledgement too
Professional assistance and education are the best ways of coping with depression, for both you and your partner. If you have not sought help as yet, call Centre for Human Potential to find out more about how counselling can help.
Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).