What to Do If Your Partner Tells You They're Depressed
Depression can put a rift in romantic relationships. However, understanding the right way to react to a partner's struggles can prevent walls from going up and help you build a stronger, more meaningful connection.
Depression isn't a mood
We tend to throw around the word "depression" as if it's a short-term state of mind rather than a chronic condition. People say things like, "That movie made me depressed" or "I'm depressed about the game last night." However, depression is more than a moment of fleeting disappointment.
Depression is a mental disorder that doesn't always have a clear cause. You may be surprised to hear your partner is depressed if everything seems to be going well, but be careful not to react defensively. Stay calm and recognize your partner is extending an opportunity for you to understand them better.
Don't take it personally
When someone we love is hurting, it's easy to feel as if we're responsible for fixing the problem. Unfortunately, with depression, it isn't that simple. Depression can be contagious when we don't know how to set boundaries and protect our feelings. Letting your partner's depression bring you down will only make it harder for you to help them.
It's not unusual for people with depression to lash out or pull away from the people they love the most. Although this can be hurtful, try to remember it's a symptom of their illness and not necessarily related to anything you did wrong. There's nothing wrong with standing up for yourself and refusing to accept abusive behavior. Nonetheless, there are times when you might be better off ignoring minor issues rather than engaging in pointless arguments.
Strategies you can use
The good news is that if someone tells you they're feeling depressed, they've already recognized the problem and are on their way to accepting help. Encourage them to continue opening up by asking questions such as:
- How long have you felt depressed?
- Are you open to getting professional help?
- Is there anything, in particular, that may have triggered your depression?
Show support by congratulating your partner for being brave enough to share. Acknowledge their feelings by listening patiently and asking what you can do to support them. It's OK not to have all the answers; letting the other person know you're available and willing to help is a great start.
Depression saps individuals of their energy levels. If your partner is willing to speak with a mental health counselor but hasn't gotten around to scheduling an appointment, offer to help. If you're on the same health insurance plan, you can call your carrier to ask about telehealth services or local therapists who are covered under your plan. Both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association have online tools to help you find a qualified mental health professional.
Encourage your partner to take care of their physical health by cooking nutritious meals, inviting them to join you for a walk and encouraging them to connect with friends. Ultimately, it's up to the individual with depression to get help. All you can do is show you care and try to be a positive influence.
What not to do
Once you adjust your mindset to view depression as an illness rather than an emotion, it becomes easier to see how common reactions to depression aren't always helpful.
Undermining or invalidating someone's depression by telling them "they have no reason to be depressed" or to "think positive" only buries the issue instead of addressing it. Even seemingly harmless phrases like "everyone goes through hard times" can come across as hurtful and dismissive to someone with depression.
People with depression need patience, support and understanding. Listening without judgment will go much further than offering your opinion or suggesting solutions. Resist the urge to give advice. People rarely listen to unsolicited advice, and it can cause them to shut down and stop sharing with you.
Where to turn for help
If you're worried about your partner's immediate safety, call 911 for emergency services. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For assistance with depression, suicidal thoughts or substance use concerns, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-622-HELP (4357). This free and confidential phone line is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, all year long. Specialists are available to answer the call and connect you with resources in your area.