5 Tips to Loving Someone With Depression
Sadly, a “look the other way” policy on mental health issues remains prevalent in the Black community, but just like extravagant meals at five-star restaurants, invoking a moratorium on discussing my depression and anxiety isn’t something my husband and I can afford.
Part of his commitment to honor, protect and care for me includes helping me grapple with depression and anxiety, both of which are fully committed to trying their damnedest to outrank financial woes, infidelity and lack of intimacy on the list of universal relationship destroyers.
Not only does my better half bear the burden of living with my bad habits (binge-watching reality TV, constant off-key singing and yelling his name from the other side of the house), he’s also tasked with providing extra emotional and spiritual support to a wife who, at times, is unable to support herself.
Even when mental illness has me in its tightest stronghold, my misery’s mantra is “no new friends” because the last thing I want is for both of us to suffer.
Here are five ways to cope when your partner lives with depression and anxiety:
1. Ask your partner for feedback.
Don’t make assumptions about what your spouse needs to feel better. Find out if they require extra space before you give it or ask if they prefer to talk before you start a round of 20 questions. “Each person suffers differently and therefore they’re going to need different types of support,” says Alisha Woodall, a Dallas-based licensed professional counselor, supervisor and founder of FindingtheFoundation.com. “Talk to them and let them know, ‘Hey, I’m aware that things are different. You seem to be a little different behavior wise. Is there something I can do to help you with that?’”
2. Learn your partner’s triggers.
Often, depression and/or anxiety causes those suffering to withdraw, but closely observing behavioral changes can alert you to the onset of an unhealthy mental shift. “These behavior changes typically precede a depression episode,” says Woodall. Also, if your spouse is unable to communicate the source of distress, skip the guessing game and consult a therapist who can help to accurately identify triggers.
3. Know when to seek outside help.
There’s no one-size-fits-all response for when an individual should address their spouse’s mental illness with others, but the threat of harm to self or others is certainly a time to alert loved ones or call on a professional. Whether the behavior includes not eating or talk of suicide, supporting a depressed partner in a life-threatening situation may go beyond your scope of capabilities. “It may be related to their husband or their partner and so the help needs to come from someone outside,” says Woodall. “The same way we bring professionals in for everything else in our lives – interior decorators, dentists, the gym, whatever – we can bring in professionals for our mental wellness as well to help us arm our families when these things come up.”
4. Validate the concerns of family and loved ones.
If your proposed methods of treatment don’t align with those of your spouse’s relatives and close friends, don’t dismiss their feelings. Acknowledge dissenting views, but continue to address your spouse’s needs in a way that makes you both comfortable. “It’s not wrong to want what they believe to be best for their family members,” says Woodall.
5. Seek therapy to maintain your own well-being. Though it may feel like the mother of all balancing acts, having a routine self-care plan while supporting your ailing partner protects your own mental stability. “If we can just really change the narrative of what counseling is – that it’s not just for the depressed person, it’s for the person who’s taking care of the depressed person as well,” says Woodall. “It’s a way of letting go of steam and talking about things that have been on our mind all week from work, from life, from stress. I’m a huge advocate for the whole family seeking counseling – not just the ‘sick individual.’ There are support systems for caretakers of those who suffer from major depression or other mental illnesses,” Woodall continues. “It really is about them getting support too.”
Kenya Foy is a Dallas-based freelance writer whose entertainment and lifestyle articles have been featured on Bustle, xoNecole, Elite Daily, Clutch and more.