How to Cope When Your Loved One’s Depressed

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Living with a person suffering from depression can be challenging, confusing and exhausting. Recognizing the many ways depression impacts relationships may help you manage your own emotions, fine tune your coping skills and better understand depression’s grip on your loved one.

Why Are Things So Different Now?

Stepping back occasionally to take a fresh look at your relationship can be helpful in clarifying why things look and feel different. “Sometimes you’re in the middle of something before you even know it,” says Beth Esposito, MS, LPCC-S, LSW, chief of clinical operations with Samaritan Behavioral Health in Dayton, Ohio.

“Assure him that you’re there for the long haul and that you want to be part of his life.”

Understanding what to expect when your loved one is depressed is a start. Esposito offers these insights:

  • Reduced socialization. You may find yourself with more alone time if your loved one has withdrawn from social situations like going to movies, going out with friends and attending family functions and vacations.
  • Changes in interactions. Your loved one might be less engaged, more irritable, sullen and argumentative. He also may develop negative thought patterns.
  • Intimacy. Intimacy may be affected, depending on the level of depression. You might begin to question why your loved one doesn’t want to be with you when it’s really not a reflection of his desire for you at all.
  • Changes in typical activities. Your loved one may abandon things he used to enjoy, such as exercising, hobbies or certain daily habits. He may have difficulty completing tasks. A dad may no longer want to play ball with his children.
  • Communication. Your loved one may no longer engage in open communication. You also may notice changes in his communication style.
  • Multiple treatments. Some people don’t respond well to cancer treatment. Likewise, your loved one’s depression might not respond to the first treatment attempt. It may take multiple treatment approaches to find one that works.

If these relationship experiences sound familiar, but your loved one has not yet been diagnosed with depression, this online depression screening toolOff Site Icon can provide insight and resources.

Ways to Help Your Loved One

Family emotions and attitudes can have both a positive and negative impact on depression. An atmosphere of criticism or hostility can multiply the chances of a depression relapse, while family-focused therapy can dramatically reduce the relapse rate of some types of depression.

Esposito says it’s important to be honest with yourself. If you’re committed to the relationship, “talk about your unconditional and positive regard for him,” she says. “Assure him that you’re there for the long haul and that you want to be part of his life.” Esposito describes these additional ways to support your loved one:How to Cope When Your Loved One’s Depressed - In Content

  • Overcome the stigma. A top barrier for depression treatment is the overall mental health stigma. Looking past the stigma can help both of you in reaching out for guidance and help.
  • Avoid asking “why” questions. These are shaming questions. Instead, create open dialog with your loved one and then really listen.
  • Don’t minimize or ignore his struggles. When he says, “I can’t do this,” don’t respond, “Sure you can” and then expect things to just get better. Expecting him to just “get over it” is not realistic and can lead to more relationship tension.
  • Be supportive but not enabling. There may be times when his behavior or his decisions are not in anyone’s best interest. You may be tempted to simply agree to avoid conflict or to make life easier for him at that moment. But it’s okay to hold him accountable. It may be difficult initially, but in time, you’ll establish a better pattern for working through issues and helping him get better.
  • Set timeframes. Allowing depression to rule the relationship often breeds discord and discontent. If he doesn’t want to seek treatment or current treatment is no longer effective, it’s important to discuss a timeframe for taking action.
  • Use “I” statements instead of blaming statements. Reframe statements such as “you always.” If he flies off the handle, say, “I feel afraid when you get angry.” It’s important to share with him how his behavior affects you. This brings more balance to the conversation.

Tips for Taking Care of Yourself

Carving out time for self-care is critical, Esposito says. While it may be tempting to devote all your energy and resources to your loved one, striking a balance between helping him and helping yourself can help you both. Esposito offers these tips:

  • Eat well and exercise. You may be tempted to push good nutrition and exercise aside when relationship dynamics overwhelm you. But that’s exactly when you need to dig in your heels and protect these key self-care practices.
  • Maintain positive outside relationships. This can be your lifeline when relationship challenges mount. You may have to tell yourself daily that you deserve and have a right to these relationships and the emotional nourishment they provide.
  • Build better perspective. You may find yourself longing for life as it was before depression took over. It’s human nature to think of your loved one as you always thought of him and not as he is now. Accepting this change can ease your frustrations and improve your outlook.
  • Finish something every day. Following through and having purpose can give you a sense of accomplishment and a boost when other areas of life feel out of control.
  • Find joy in laughter and music. Humor, music and laughter use a different part of the brain. They can be a diversion and invite variety into your life, making you more well-rounded and balanced. This may stave off your own depressed feelings.
  • Seek structure. Staying organized and building structure in your life can’t be underestimated. Making sure your daily life is structured helps you feel and be productive.
  • Set boundaries and timeframes. Be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to do in the relationship. There may come a time when the relationship begins to more negatively affect you, especially if he won’t seek help and won’t communicate. Getting out of the relationship may become your best option for self-preservation if you’ve tried everything else.
  • Seek outside or professional intervention. Remain aware of your own mental health. Whether it’s a close friend with whom you can talk openly or a professional, it’s important to seek guidance when life becomes overwhelming.

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Beth Esposito, MS, LPCC-S, LSW

President, Samaritan Behavioral Health

Small Steps: Get More Sunlight
Sunlight triggers your body to make serotonin, a hormone that makes body and mind feel better. Get outside or purchase special artificial lighting that mimics the sun’s mood-boosting benefits.