Depression is without doubt a devastating illness to live with. A person who suffers from depression feels persistently sad, numb, or hopeless–feelings made worse because they seem to lack any basis in reality. Watching someone suffer from depression can be confusing – their life might seem just fine, with a supportive partner, a good job, a nice house…so why can’t they just be happy?
If you live with and love someone who has been diagnosed with depression, you may feel deep concern for this person but also feel frustration, anger, and loneliness. A spouse or partner who is depressed is not able to be fully “with” you. They may isolate themselves and seem unresponsive to your love and help.
So how can you support your loved one while also maintaining your own well-being?
Learn about depression – what it looks like, what causes it, different ways it can manifest, treatment options, and more. The more you understand how depression works, the better you’ll be able to talk with your loved one about your concerns.
If your loved one is willing to seek help for their depression, great–you can skip to the next section. But if they are still resisting treatment, it may be time to intervene.
Why would someone resist getting help for depression? For many reasons.
- They might not believe that treatment will help.
- They might think medication will change them in a negative way.
- They might think that depression is just part of their personality (and why can’t you just accept that?).
- They may have undergone treatment before and found it unhelpful.
If the depressed person is your spouse or partner, you can start by explaining to them how their depression affects you. How does it make you feel when you can’t rely on your partner to manage their responsibilities or to spend time with the children or to support your own emotional needs? The point here is not to make the person feel guilty or bad about themselves. It’s to help them see that depression is not just their problem–it affects the entire household.
Remind them that depression is not their fault – it’s an illness, and one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S., affecting 21 million U.S. adults in 2021.
Then, ask them to meet with a psychiatrist, doctor, or therapist. Offer to help them find someone they trust and make the necessary arrangements. Discuss different options: an inpatient stay at a behavioral health center? Regular meetings with a therapist? Antidepressants?
Set an Ultimatum?
If your loved one continues to refuse to get treatment, consider whether you’re ready to set an ultimatum. What will you do if they refuse to get treatment? Whatever you decide, follow through.
If you’re unsure about what to do or how to best help your loved one (and yourself), meet with a therapist. Talking with a professional can help you process how you’re feeling and decide how to move forward.
Note: If your loved one is suicidal, don’t wait to intervene. Call 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to speak with someone who can advise you what to do next. Make sure your loved one is supervised until help arrives.
Help Them Maintain Mental Health
If your loved one agrees to get treatment and begins the process of recovery, there is still much you can do to support them:
- Offer to help them create and maintain a treatment schedule.
- Be willing to listen – we all need to talk about how we feel without being judged for it, and you can be a good listener when your loved one needs to “vent.”
- Remind your loved one of what you love about them – encourage them to focus on their positive qualities.
- Invite your loved one to do things with you – get out of the house and go for a hike, watch a movie, or visit with friends.
While it’s wonderful to be able to offer support for a loved one, it’s also very easy for the line between help and enabling to become blurred. Bottom line: Your loved one’s depression is not your responsibility. If they do not take their treatment seriously, you will only wear yourself out trying to do everything for them. Which leads to our next point…
Take Care of Yourself
Living with someone with depression can be exhausting on all levels: emotionally, mentally, and physically. Keeping yourself healthy on all levels will help you maintain perspective, think clearly, and make thoughtful decisions. Therapy is always an excellent support, and you can also find peer support groups, both in person and online, for family members and friends of people who suffer from depression and other mood disorders.
It’s not selfish to have fun, to laugh, and to nurture friendships when someone you love is unable to do so. In fact, your ability to care for yourself and keep a sense of humor will take some of the pressure off your loved one and relieve some of the guilt they feel for being depressed.
If you would like to talk with someone about your situation, or if you yourself are suffering from depression, reach out to our compassionate team at Miramont Behavioral Health. At our facility in Middleton, Wisconsin, we offer inpatient and outpatient treatment for adults and teens who suffer from depression and other mood disorders.