Is Your Loved One Depressed? What You Can Do to Help
Does your partner wrestle with depression? Do your actions have very little effect against the heaviness that drains the joy and color out of your connection?
Are you asking, “Is there anything I can do or say to make a positive change? Are there things I should not do or say?”
Supporting a partner with depression may feel very lonely at times. However, you are not not alone in this difficult experience.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 21 million adults in America experienced depression in 2020. That is 8.4% of the adult population. According to a survey conducted by the US Census Bureau, about half of the residents in Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue felt depressed in November of 2020. That makes us the most depressed city in America.
Symptoms of depression is a common experience, especially during the pandemic. Supporting a loved one through depression is also incredibly common. There are concrete ways you can support your depressed partner.
Start by preparing yourself with daily a routine of self-care, self-compassion, and self-validation. Your desire to support and shoulder some of the burden is admirable and you own mental health is invaluable. Caring for your partner does not have to come at the expense of your wellbeing.
To be the best support possible requires clear boundaries. From there, you can offer your partner nonjudgmental care and a trustworthy alliance. What does that look like practically? Following are some helpful strategies.
What You Can Do to Help Your Depressed Partner
1. Learn More About Depression
Now is the time to learn the signs, symptoms, and types of depression. You can inform yourself of your partner’s condition and how their daily life is interrupted. Even if you have experienced depression yourself in the past, depression does not manifest the same way for everyone.
While there are many websites, blogs, and books on the topic, reaching out to a professional counselor to learn more about depression and get support for yourself as a caregiver is vital. A knowledgeable information source can make all the difference in getting the right support at the right time.
Furthermore, learning more about your partner’s low moods and emotional pain can help boost your own empathy, engagement, and patience. As you come to understand how depression ebbs and flows, affects energy, and impacts self-worth, you can operate with more clarity and curiosity regarding your partner’s experience.
2. Remain Vulnerable, Accessible, & Present
As a partner, your acceptance, kind words, and compassionate presence have power during this vulnerable time for your loved one. Depression can cause your partner to withdraw, but try not to respond in kind. You can be the best support by continuing to reach out and connect with them as much as you can.
The sense of belonging and emotional safety you offer is sacred. You can stay open, suspend judgement, and encourage your partner to come to you and open up when they are able. Listen well and practice being nonjudgemental.
One of the symptoms of depression is fatigue and the journey to heal from depression can be exhausting for your partner. You can help by staying focused on the present, acknowledging small victories, and praising any attempt to reach their goals.
Depression is not a character defect. You can be supportive of your partner’s journey by providing positive reinforcement rather than blaming or shaming.
3. Encourage Depression Treatment
There are a number of effective treatments for depression such as counseling, acupuncture, exercise, medication, meditation, body and energy work, light therapy, nutrition, etc. However, getting over the hurdle of shame and stigma around mental health concerns and seeking help can be difficult. Your partner may feel ashamed of their inability to power through their depression. There may be cultural and gender-based stigma and taboo around mental health concerns. Your partner may have grown up in a family culture where mental health was swept under the rug and there was a code of silence in the home. Your partner may not have had access to mental health care in the past due to their socioeconomic situation.
You can gently help your partner see the wisdom of professional guidance. Share what you have learned about depression, your observations of their struggles, and symptoms that concern you. Let your partner know that there is hope and they are not alone. Depression treatment is accessible and effective. They do not have to continue to feel this way.
If they are not sure what to look for in a therapist, you can share our blog post with tips on how to find a therapist that is right for them.
You can remain steadfastly committed to encouraging therapy, medication, or both and commit to seeking out treatment with them. If your partner struggles to continue treatment, you can offer to take them to the appointments or even attend therapy with them as a support.
Psychotherapy can be hard work and may be difficult or draining at times. You can be supportive of your partner by listening to their therapy experiences or to simply be present as they navigate the process and their emotions.
4. Keep Personal Responsibility and Boundaries Clear
It is easy to slip into a more parental place, or that of a roommate, with a depressed partner. Intentionally set your personal limits and honor your partner’s strengths and resilience. Continue to treat them with respect and trust in their capability to overcome their depression. You can communicate honestly your expectation that they are a full participant in your relationship. Do not be afraid to kindly and firmly let your partner know that their self-care and obligations are their responsibility. Their recovery also impacts you. The better they feel, the more they can contribute to the shared success of your relationship.
5. Take Suicide Seriously
Finally, take any mention of suicide seriously, and report them to your loved one’s physician or therapist. If they’re in imminent danger, call 911 for emergency services or get them to the nearest emergency room.
Take the Next Step for More Help
Depression rarely dissipates on its own. Supporting a partner with a mental health condition can be challenging. You both need and deserve care and support. Let us help. You can read more about depression treatment with one of our licensed therapists and schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to see if we can be a good fit to help you.
The Power of Play: The Antidote to Prevent and Cope With Depression
With the holidays swiftly approaching, I have been thinking a lot about the purpose of play and rest in our busy lives. There seems to be an endless stream of things on the to-do list, which only increases with the demands of the holiday season. So, why do you feel exhausted even when you have gotten enough sleep and feel you are keeping up with your work-life balance? Why do you struggle to find joy even in those moments when you are intentionally cultivating “fun” for yourself or your family? I would like to propose that the loss of play and downtime in our adult lives has greatly diminished our ability to achieve balance and find pleasure in both our work and personal lives. Many of us crave this regularly, but struggle to name it.
When Fun Became Anxiety
Dr. Brené Brown talks about the importance of play and rest in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. As someone who struggles with craving a sense of control, it feels foreign to carve out time to do something with no quantifiable value, no intended goal, and just for the sake of doing it. But, if I’m being honest with myself, I deeply desire to have this sense of spark and freedom in my life. When I spend time on a hobby for pleasure, it often involves some form of music. However, I have a lot of hang ups associated with music and performance that I never had as a child. This could be because I worked professionally as a singer for a number of years. I took my passion for music and turned it into a vocation, which in some ways was wonderful, but it also quickly became about pleasing others and perfectionism. I lost that original connection I felt when I was younger. It stopped transporting me and became a source of anxiety.
As a child, for a period of time, when it rained heavily, I would go to the piano and write a new song to match my mood. I remember singing my heart out and sometimes crying, because I felt so moved. Somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of singing. I’m trying to find my way back to those moments at the piano in the rain. Now that I’ve transitioned music into simply a hobby, I still feel intense pressure to get it right, to craft something of value and not waste my time making music which isn’t “perfectly” crafted and well received. All of these critical voices, self-doubt, and performance anxiety start to seep in, and it often stops me before I even begin the process. So, my current aim is to shed those expectations and go back to the basics: simply having fun singing and writing songs again, with absolutely no expectations. You may have those childhood moments of sheer bliss, of being in flow while doing something you love. You just need to find a way to access that again. So much is lost when you don’t allow yourself to take that journey, to be creative just because it makes you happy and brings a feeling of freedom. These moments will enhance your life and may bring back that sense of being more fully alive. In order to do this, you must unlearn a lot of the things you are taught growing up and choose to prioritize it. It is a lifelong process for many of us.
Adult Play as the Antidote to Depression
Dr. Stuart Brown is a psychiatrist and clinical researcher who founded the National Institute for Play. He studied how play shapes the brain, helps with imagination and enhances our lives. Interestingly, he described play as the antidote to prevent and cope with depression. What he discovered is that play brings excitement and newness even to our work lives, helps us master skills, and is a core part of the creative process. Play seems to tap into the deepest parts of our needs and desires; therefore, it is essential whether you prioritize it or not. If you choose to dismiss its importance, you will invariably feel its effects. It is not an optional thing. There are some wonderful articles which highlight the importance of taking self-care days when you need them, the benefits of play in various areas of your life, what play looks like and how to incorporate it into your life.
Rest and Wellness
Downtime is also a core component of emotional and physical health. So, why isn’t it seen as a higher value by most of us? Perhaps it is because you may be praised for over working and for achieving things that bring greater wealth or status. When people mention feeling tired or a need for rest, it can be perceived as a weakness. This toxic mindset starts to seep in and affect the choices you make. So, why are you surprised to find yourself depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted, and feeling lost?
I have experienced feeling judged or criticized for carving out the time and space for self-care and fun in my life. It is still difficult to practice setting boundaries by saying yes to rest and play and no to the things which I feel will elicit the most praise from others. However, I never regret acting on that impulse and following through on that which my mind and body are longing for. This doesn’t look the same in every season of life. I must continue to check in with myself and ask: What feels right? What is out of balance? Adjusting to what is and being flexible and kind to yourself is an important part of the process.
Play and Rest Checklist
Prioritizing play and rest is a common struggle. My aim is to normalize it and encourage you to prioritize it. Sometimes even small changes can make a huge difference to the quality of your life. Below are some reflection questions for you to meditate on or journal about toward a more restful and playful life.
I hope you have a great time exploring these things and find that the child in you comes out to play, perhaps even surprising you now and again.
Begin Counseling in Seattle, Washington
Are you feeling burnt out and overworked? Are you struggling with finding joy and pleasure in your life? With the guidance of a mental health counselor, you can begin to prioritize your happiness and wellbeing. Your therapist can work together with you to create healthy habits, combat depression, and improve your mental health. You can begin online counseling in the comfort of your own home. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation today to get started.
Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder This Winter
It's that time of the year again. The amount of daylight is decreasing every day. Here in Seattle, the clouds, rain, and cold have moved in. People who are sensitive to the effects of weather and sunlight may notice that their moods are significantly impacted by the change in season. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common experience here in the Pacific Northwest due to our geographic distance from the equator. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD affects 5% of adults in the U.S. and can last on average 40% of the year.
The changes in weather and sunlight can impact our brain chemistry and circadian rhythm, which controls our sleep, exercise, eating patterns, and mood. I used to struggle with SAD symptoms when I first moved to the Pacific Northwest nine years ago but I have created a winter routine of coping strategies that really works for me. In this blog post, I offer some ideas for preventing and coping with SAD symptoms.
Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Real?
A 2016 study, published in Scientific American looked at the depression rates of individuals based on geographic location, season and sunlight but found no correlations between these factors and depression. The author suggests that the scientific jury is still out on whether SAD is "real" even though it is recognized as a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Whether scientists have come to any definitive conclusions about SAD or not, you are the expert of your life. If you have noticed a pattern of struggling with symptoms of depression with the change in seasons, it may be helpful to engage in some preventative coping strategies so that you can feel your absolute best, even when it is dark and gloomy outside.
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The symptoms of SAD are very similar to that of major depressive disorder, which includes:
In addition to the symptoms of major depressive disorder, the following signs are characteristic of SAD:
Strategies to Prevent and Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder
First, formal assessments by medical and mental health professionals are helpful to rule out other possible medical or mental health concerns. Your primary care provider can conduct a physical exam and run labs to determine whether you are struggling with a physical health concern, which sometimes can look like depression, and if you are deficient in your hormones or vitamin levels. Your mental health provider can assess whether your symptoms meet diagnostic criteria for SAD and/or if there are other mental health concerns present.
If you are diagnosed with SAD, below are some evidence-based strategies to prevent or cope with the symptoms:
Counseling to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you are seeking additional help in managing SAD or depression, our licensed therapists can help provide you with effective coping strategies. We provide treatment for SAD and depression and would love to speak with you. You can schedule a free 15-minute consultation to get started.