Depressed about partner's depression? 7 ways to help yourself

  • Sanya Panwar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 08, 2014 18:19 IST

It's one of those dirty words everybody hopes they'll never have to deal with. Yet, all of us have to confront 'depression' in some form, or intensity, from time to time. Make no mistake on this one: anyone who has experienced real depression knows it is more than just ‘feeling low’ or ‘feeling down’.

What is depression?

It is not always easy to detect where normal sorrow ends and clinical depression begins. But, according to psychologist Dr Rima Mukherjee of Pearl Clinic, Kolkata, during a major episode of depression, a person is enveloped by feelings of sadness, emptiness and worthlessness.

These feelings distort every thought and experience, rendering life meaningless and hopeless, she adds.

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“Clinical depression is an illness characterised by a cluster of feelings, thoughts and behaviours that are strikingly different from a person's normal range of feeling and functioning,” she says.

Dr Sanjeev Aggarwal of Medicare Centre, Mumbai, adds that caused by a complex interaction of biological, social and psychological factors, a major depressive disorder can make a person exquisitely sensitive to life's circumstances, which can throw him/her into total black despair.

While a major depression can be triggered by some life circumstance or event, in all likelihood, depression has less to do with events that occur and more to do with an individual's inherent vulnerability to the condition, says Dr Aggarwal.

Signs to watch out for

Symptoms of depression can include feelings of sluggishness, fatigue or agitation, certainty that everything is worthless and hopeless, a change in appetite and/or weight or difficulties in sleeping or a tendency to oversleep.

“Loss of interest in normal pleasures of life, such as food, sex, friends, work, family, sports, and hobbies, diminished ability to concentrate and make decisions, social withdrawal, sustained and pervasive change in mood, a pattern of negative, pessimistic self-blaming or self-critical thinking and even suicidal thoughts are common,” says Dr Mukherjee.

Also read: Love the evenings? You are prone to depression

In other words, you either become numb to life or feel chronically irritated, frustrated or angry.

In rare cases, a person may experience a major depression as a single episode. However, in most instances, clinical depression tends to recur periodically, reactively or cyclically, say specialists. A major depression may last up to two years.

What you can do about it

Dr Aggarwal says that depression can control both you and your partner. You can easily be drawn into the same vortex that’s spinning your partner around, he stresses.

“Depression is contagious. It’s common to develop your own illness as a result of living with a depressed person. That’s why it’s so important to get all the help you can and to watch your emotional and physical state,” he says.

Also read: Facebook addiction can leave you lonely, depressed

Clearly, when depression takes over your partner, you’re likely to go through an emotional roller-coaster, after all this relationship means a lot to you. You may feel overwhelmed, confused and helpless.

“There are thousands of men and women who have lived through this struggle or are in the midst of it right now. But there’re thing you can do to keep yourself together and your life falling apart,” he adds.

Worried sick that you show any of these signs? Here's how you can help yourself. Take notes.

1Take care of yourself: When depression strikes and you find yourself living with a distant stranger, it’s only natural to focus first on your partner. You’re likely shocked and confused and want to bring back the familiar loving person you know. But be lenient with yourself. It’s easy to lose sight of your own needs and gradually undermine the health and inner balance you need to get through the crisis. It’s important to keep your own life going, get out of the house as often as you can and spend time on the things that help you relax.

2Get help: There’s so much stress in living with depression that you should reach out for support. You probably can’t stop the emotional roller-coaster all at once or persuade your partner to get help or take perfect care of yourself. But, perhaps you have caring friends you trust enough to confide in, or can find a support group, online communities, or try individual counselling maybe – that’s the critical first step. Keep on getting their help; you need regular support because the hurting doesn’t stop until depression does.

3 Don’t feel guilty: Depression is the cause of the problem, not you. Nothing you’ve done could have brought on the ugly transformation of your partner – whatever accusations they might throw at you. Nor is it possible for you to fix the illness. Depression is complicated, not fully understood, and has multiple causes. No one really knows how to cure it. You may be able to help your partner get the right kind of help, but they need to commit to the work of recovery and stay with it. So, remember, all this is not your fault.

4Understand what you’re in for: Learn about depression and how pervasive an impact it can have. That will prepare you to recognize the many ways it can distort your partner’s behaviour. You should realize, though, that what you’re learning is just a small part of an evolving field of research. It’s easy to jump to conclusions about exactly what’s wrong and what can be done about it. Consulting a mental health professional is a good way to get further insight into your partner’s illness.

5 Love, but don’t be pushy: Offer support without trying to be directive. Suggest it might be helpful – but pushing it, demanding that he/ she get help in certain ways or learn what you’ve been learning, won’t work. Tell him/her you’re trying to figure out all the changes in the relationship, and will be there to help as much as you can.

6 Break the cycle: One way to keep from being dependent on your partner’s moods is to look closely at your reactions to each of them. What are the worst, most painful moments for you – the ones that trigger your most intense feelings? What does your partner do to set you off? What is the feeling that wells up in you – anger, fear, hopelessness? And what do you do in response – meet attack for attack, hold your feelings in, leave? How do you feel about your own reactions afterward? It can help to track these reactions on paper at first to help you recognize the triggering events. That tactic could make it easier to interrupt your usual reaction, restore a sense of emotional independence and break the cycle that’s hurting you in so many ways.

7 Things change, you change with them: Keep in mind that the relationship you used to know may not return. It’s likely to change as a result of living with depression, perhaps for months or even years. It’s only natural to long for the return of the loving partner you used to know – your partner wants the same thing – but be prepared that it may not be so simple. You and your partner are more likely to face a gradual process of redefining how to live together.

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