Depression is much more than a bad mood. It’s a disorder that casts a shadow over a person’s thoughts, feelings, perceptions of the world, and their relationships with others. This makes living with someone who has depressed quite the challenging task. Researchers estimate that almost one out of every five people in the US will experience major depression at some point in their lifetime. So chances are you’ll have a loved one who has experienced the disorder at one point or another.
Depression looks different for different people, so shake off those stock images of the crying person who can’t get out of bed. Though people might experience this intense sadness, others may feel irritable, anxious, or angry. That constantly irritated friend who can’t concentrate or sleep at night? He might actually be depressed. Other signs to look for might include loss of interest in activities that were once fun, difficulty making decisions, changes in sleeping and eating, loss of energy or sluggishness, feeling guilty or hopeless, and even suicidal thoughts.
If you live with someone with depression, such as a romantic partner or a family member, you’ll encounter your own hurdles. These might include:
- Feeling angry about the disorder
- Perceiving the depressed person as ungrateful or too needy
- Fear or anxiety in expressing your frustrations
- Feeling your relationship needs are not met
- Feeling frustrated by lack of participation in chores
The temptation is there to tell your loved one to “look on the bright side” or “snap out of it.” But would you say that to a physically injured person? Mental illness can be difficult to understand what it is like unless you’ve experienced it yourself. We live in a world where “5 Easy Steps” is touted as the solution to all problems. But the reality is that getting out of bed and going to work when you’re depressed isn’t about following a simple lifehack, summoning the right amount of willpower, or bribing yourself. Motivating catch phrases are never helpful, and will probably be met with hostility and irritability.
Don’t be discouraged. Overcoming depression is possible and probably for many people, but it’s no simple task. So what can you do for your loved one?
Communicate – Take the time to communicate to your loved one. Reassure them that you understand that depression is a disorder and not a personal failing. Let them know you don’t think they are weak, and that you know they are not choosing to feel the way they do. If you’re having trouble reframing, imagine how you would react if your spouse had a broken leg. Healing takes time, and you can’t force it.
Involve them – Involve the person as much as you can in the decision-making process. So rather than saying, “You need to get out of the house and go outside today,” you could say, “I’d like to get outside today. Would you rather go for a walk in the park or go see a movie?” If they refuse, it’s important not to force them to do anything. Instead, provide genuine praise for the small successes and avoid sarcasm.
Avoid accusatory speech – Watch your words and try to use “I-statement” rather than accusatory “You-statements.” There’s a difference between “I value your mental health and want to see you accomplish your goals,” compared to “You never do anything for yourself.” Pushing someone’s buttons might feel good in the moment but it won’t solve anything. Chances are a depressed person is already struggling with feelings of guilt and self-criticism.
Practice self-care – Never ever forget to care of your mind, body, and other relationships when a loved one is struggling. Depressed people are often perceived as being self-centered, because all of their focus and energy is caught up in dealing with the disorder. Therefore you may need to turn to other friends and family members for support and encouragement. Counseling or a support group can be an incredibly helpful resource to learn more about depression but also to learn positive coping skills for yourself as well.
If you’re not where sure to start, remind yourself not to lose hope. The majority of people with depression will improve with treatment, but the process will take time, patience, setbacks, and love. Encourage your loved one to get help today and seek ways to support yourself as well.