Supporting a Partner with Depression and ED
Offering support to a partner who suffers from depression can be a challenge in the best of circumstances, but when you add the issue of erectile dysfunction (ED) into the equation, it can quickly seem overwhelming.
According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 17 million American adults had at least one major depressive episode the previous year. And the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey reports that in 2016, 9.3 percent of Americans who visited their doctor had depression indicated on their medical record.
And then there's ED. About 30 million American men are believed to suffer from erectile dysfunction, although that estimate may be low given an obvious reluctance to self-report on the issue.
Considering the negative feedback loop created as depression and ED may each become a cause of the other, partners of men suffering from both of these issues may feel they have their work cut out for them.
Here are a few tips to address each issue separately.
Let's talk depression
Learn the symptoms
Depression is defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as at least two weeks of a change in the way you've been functioning, including at least five of the symptoms:
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Changes in appetite, including unexplained weight gain or loss
- Changes in sleep routine
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Talk about it
You can be a supportive partner by asking questions such as:
- What helped the last time you felt this way?
- What's the best way I can help you?
- What can we do together to help you get through this?
Empathy and listening are crucial. Validate your partner's feelings with lots of eye contact and statements such as, "It sounds like you're having a rough time," and "I'm always here for you," and "We'll get through this together."
Being empathetic means listening rather than trying to come up with solutions. Especially don't try to cheer your partner up and worse encourage them with well-meaning statements such as, “What do you have to be depressed about? You have a great life." Not only is this unhelpful, but it also sounds as if you're blaming your partner for their own condition.
Bottom line, though, communication is the most important factor in any relationship.
Encourage them to get professional help
Unless you happen to be professionally qualified, you have to realize you can only do so much. Yes, you can be supportive and nurturing, but it's not a failure on your part to recognize that professional advice and treatment will be necessary for a successful outcome.
According to the APA, 80-90 percent of people with depression respond well to medical treatment.
Giddy Psychologist Dr. Susan Ansorge shares some guidance about depression in the ED Guide video series. Click here to watch the video.
Now let's talk ED
Help him be open
It's easy for men to get frustrated or experience a sense of shame if they have erectile difficulties. Lending an empathetic ear and encouraging your partner to discuss how he's feeling can help a great deal.
Talk about the depression
Help your partner understand depression has a significant impact on sexual function, and there's no one at fault here.
According to a 2000 study published in the journal American Family Physician, 70 percent of people in the study suffering from depression also had a loss of sexual interest and reported this particular symptom was worse than any others resulting from their depression.
Take the focus off penetration
Often, men view "having sex" with an emphasis on penetration. However, feeling anxious about performing penetrative sex can cause an erection to fade, especially if there's some history of previous difficulties to maintain an erection.
Try turning the focus on each other's bodies instead of rushing to penetration, maybe even establish a rule beforehand that there won't be penetration during this session so expectations are established and unthreatening. There is a full range of sensual input—through touching, kissing, licking and making out—that should be more than enough to take his mind off anything that may have happened before.
You might also want to encourage some dirty talk or perhaps exchange fantasies, tell each other what turns you on about each other, direct attention to parts of your body that need to be touched in a certain way. Always keep the emphasis on what works.
Talk to your doctor
Since depression can have an effect on sexual function and vice versa, it's important to encourage your partner to make regular visits to his doctor.
Aside from depression, though, there are many physical causes for erectile dysfunction—such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes—all of which play a role in ED and can be dangerous if undiagnosed and unaddressed.