Having a partner with depression can be an alienating experience. Without understanding the symptoms of depression and the shame a person feels about being depressed, the experience can be confusing and hurtful.
A partner with depression will go through a number of changes such as loss of interest or pleasure in things such as sex, sports or hobbies, lack of energy, weight loss or gain, fixations on failure, and sleep disturbances to name a few.
It's easy to equate these behaviors as a loss of interest in you as a partner or your relationship in general, but often that's not the case.
Here are five ways you can help yourself and your partner if they suffer from depression:
1. Educate yourself
First and foremost there is a very necessary need for education. Lack of knowledge leads us to react in a way that is very unhelpful. This creates one of two responses: Our partner will completely shut down or they will react with anger. Educating ourselves about the effects of depression enables us to build patience and compassion. We begin to understand how it affects our partner and how we can positively manage our own behavior towards them. We can move away from a position of judgment and self-perpetuating stress to one of love and understanding.
2. Take care of yourself
Depression is a clinical condition that is often misunderstood and before we realize what we are facing, our energy stores are already close to being depleted. Living with a partner with depression can be a long-term commitment and the energy needed to fuel endless hours of empathic understanding is not limitless. It can be emotionally draining to support a partner along the road to recovery or at the very least, to manage their day-to-day life in a more positive and constructive way.
Seeking the support of local groups or friends and family is a very healthy and necessary choice. It will help your partner if you engage and communicate with people in similar situations. The exchange of coping strategies will reinvigorate your own resolve.
3. Create a partnership
Even when we do educate ourselves and we understand the nature of what depression is, we can never really understand what somebody else is going through. A lot of time the seeds for depression were planted long before we met our partner.
It's OK to admit we do not fully understand what they are going through. It can be very beneficial to create a "we" approach when trying to find a way forward. Together, you can create a compassionate bond that creates a safe haven for your partner to communicate openly and feel cared for. Start with questions and statements such as "What do you need right now?", "I am here for you," and "How can we take the next steps together?"
4. Love unconditionally
Depressives will experience many dark days filled with feelings of unworthiness, shame, guilt, anxiety, and alienation from the outside world. These negative feelings are very difficult to let go of. Our brains are hard wired to hold on to negativity because that's what kept us alive during the caveman days.
Unraveling that negativity starts with love. The "I love you" and "I am here for you" messages are important every day, even through your own moments of exhaustion and frustration. There are also many little things you can do that you know they enjoy. Your efforts may not seem like they are acknowledged but in reality, they are over time. Your partner's only sign of hope during darker days may be the smallest deeds of kindness and love.
5. Get help
One in six people will experience depression at some point in their lives. There are also those partners who have more severe clinical depression and this can be difficult to manage within a relationship itself.
In these circumstances it is better to encourage your partner to get formal professional help. This can be very necessary in order to find an equilibrium that will sustain a more balanced day-to-day life. Remember, depression is not a choice; it's an illness. It needs to be treated as such.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.