Loving someone with depression can be discouraging when we are standing on the outside looking in. It’s particularly difficult for individuals who have no first-hand experience with the insidious struggle themselves. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can—and should—do to help those we love.
This post is guided from an incredibly moving talk titled, “Like a Broken Vessel”, by Jeffrey R. Holland. In this talk, Holland states:
“Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”Jeffrey R. Holland
Merciful, Nonjudgmental, and Kind. Let me elaborate how to employ those virtuous attributes as you care for someone you love with depression.
Take Care of Yourself
First, don’t assume you can fix everything. That might be particularly difficult for men who often show love by solving problems. Depression is not something to “be fixed”.
Picture this: having depression is like wearing a wet raincoat: it’s uncomfortable, the wearer doesn’t want to keep it on, but sometimes it is so saturated, it is sticking to her skin and for the life of her, she can’t peel it off.
Instead of trying to forcefully wrench the raincoat from the wearer’s body, help the one you love inside it. Hold the umbrella for her to stand under, wrap a blanket around her, unbutton the topmost button that’s too tight under her chin.
If you lose yourself in trying to cure the depression you will burn out. Depression is a long, slow road, so slow down your approach. It’s not the common cold—a week’s worth of focused, nourishment and care will not make it disappear.
Don’t play the offensive, let her come to you when she needs help or comfort. Be vigilant yourself with your mental, emotional, and physical health, and maybe most importantly, recognize that your partner’s depression is not a result, or an extension, of you.
Look for Celebrations
Everyone deserves to be reminded that:
I can assure you; your partner’s thoughts are never too far away from their mental health. You don’t need to remind them about it. Again, let them come to you.
If it’s on your mind, it’s very likely on theirs. Talk about something else that will boost their confidence and remind them that they are so much more than their struggle.
Example: If you ask how their day was, you can get one of two possible responses. Either a celebration of something positive, or word vomit about the nightmare that was their day.
I’ll give you a hint: they both need the same response. The only thing that changes is your delivery.
- They share something good that happened at work.
- Your response: “That is awesome! That’s because you are so <<fill-in-the-blank>>. I am so proud of you.”
- They share 10 things that went wrong from the moment they woke up and they feel like a total failure.
- Your response: “Honey, I am so sorry you had such a challenging day. I never would have known because you’re always so strong. I’m so proud of the way you always handle every day so gracefully.”
Offer sympathy (or empathy, if possible) + reinforce their strengths + express love.
Hopefully, with this practice, you can build trust and your partner will share their little celebrations of fighting depression with you. Their little celebrations should be your midnight jamboree!
Even if you don’t understand, even if you find yourself thinking, “I didn’t even realize that was a problem!”, offer them the most sincere, heartfelt expression of pride you can.
If you’re focused on the one you love, and not frustrated with their struggle, your joy will be naturally sincere.
…but don’t call it that
“In preventing illness whenever possible, watch for the stress indicators in yourself and in others you may be able to help. As with your automobile, be alert to rising temperatures, excessive speed, or a tank low on fuel.”Jeffrey R. Holland
Understand that the key aggravations for depression are lack of sunlight, lack of exercise, overwhelm, loss of self (activities & hobbies they enjoy) in service to others, poor nutrition, and fatigue. Address these symptoms, rather than the cause.
Don’t ask, have you been exercising? Eating well? Are you staying vigilant to keep your depression at bay?
If you approach them like a doctor checking off their list, they will feel like their depression is a burden on you, which will only aggravate their feelings of poor self-worth. You can take care of your loved one’s preventative needs without calling it such.
Be their partner! Instead, ask, do you want to go for a walk? Can I make dinner tonight? Do you want to get out of the house?
They may rebuff all your attempts at help because they are already feeling depressed. At that point, the best thing to do might just be to sit quietly with them. Lay next to them in bed and read. Hold their hand while you sit on the couch and watch a movie. Just provide a calm and quiet reassurance that you are there.
Be Patient and Offer Reassurance that they are Loved
One of my favorite parenting gurus, psychologist James Jones talks about how we adults give our children—and everyone, really—positive and negative “strokes”. What he means is, with every word and gesture, we are either giving a positive “atta boy” pat on the head, or a negative “what were you thinking!” smack upside the head. These are what he calls “Strokes”.
He goes on to say that every child is naturally stroke deficient. They could get 100 positive pats on the head every day, and still want and need more. So it is with our loved ones struggling with depression. They are stroke deficient.
So, my question for you is, what does it hurt you to say I love you a million times? How does it hurt to reassure your partner every day that they are loved, that they are good enough, that they are strong and resilient and good?
If you would argue that saying it too much makes it lose its meaning, then find other ways to “say” I love you. Bring home a treat, make breakfast, fill the car’s gas tank. Tell her she’s beautiful, she’s funny, she’s dependable, she’s the glue that keeps your family together.
All of those things will help to dry her wet raincoat.
- Be patient.
- Learn your loved one’s warning signs, and without being pushy, help them.
- Invigorate their physical and emotional health: make them laugh, go outside with them, and eat well.
- Being overworked and run down always agitates depression. Find an opportunity to persuade your partner to sit down, read a book, take a nap, engage in some guiltless alone time with a favorite hobby, while you do the grocery shopping, take the kids to school, run her weekend errands, whatever!
Always remember Depression is a long, slow-processing malady, and only the one afflicted by it can truly heal it. Treat the symptoms as best as you can, and offer calm and patient reassurance that you are always there.