How to Love Someone With Depression

One of the hardest things about depression is understanding it. This advice will help.

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Depression is devastating. When someone is suffering from depression, their entire life is blown apart. It can be a massive struggle just to make it through each day. But they aren’t the only ones who struggle. The people who are often forgotten are the loved ones of a person with depression. No-one tells them how to cope. They don’t know what to do. I would like to try and offer some advice to those people.

Knowing somebody you love is struggling with depression leaves you feeling incredibly helpless. You feel if you could say the right thing, or do something special, that maybe you will be able to help them to get better. But you don’t know what to say or what to do.

You try a gentle approach, you try a firm approach. You give them space, you try to get them to open up. You suggest things that can help. You buy them presents. You say encouraging things, you get frustrated and argue. Yet nothing you do seems to make any difference.

From my experience, the big mistake that people often make is that they treat depression as a mood, as if saying or doing the right thing will lift the depression. What you must remember is that depression isn’t a mood – it’s a very debilitating illness.

If somebody had a broken leg, you wouldn’t tell them to go for a run. You would be patient, you would understand that it will take time, patience and rehabilitation. When the leg heals and you can walk again, it still can take weeks for it to regain full strength. It may never be as strong again. Depending on how bad the break was, it may alter how you walk, what exercise you can do, even how you stand. It may never be the same again.

That is EXACTLY what depression is like.

Just because you can’t see an injury doesn’t mean that it isn’t debilitating. I talked in my previous article about how, after my worst bout of depression, it took months before I felt I could do my job properly. Even now, two years on, I’m not the same as I was. I don’t do overtime. I don’t work night shifts. I don’t get left on my own for too long. There are countless other little things as well. This is because my depression completely changed my entire outlook on life, and it changed who I was as a person.

When their loved ones are battling depression, when they are in that darkness, human nature is to try and ‘fix’ them. For a lot of people, this approach won’t work. Whilst there are things you can do, like giving the day a routine, and trying to find activities to keep the persons’ mind active, you are not going to be able to make someone “snap out of it”, it’s just impossible.

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Try to imagine that depression is like being in a dark tunnel. The person with depression can’t see a thing, because everything is surrounded by darkness. Every sound is amplified, every fear is magnified. All they want to do is get out of the tunnel, but they can’t see where to go, they don’t know what to do. Your natural reaction is to lead them out of this dark tunnel, back to the light.

This is the WRONG approach.

You may think it makes sense, but for the person with depression, nothing makes sense. That’s the nature of the illness. They can’t be led out of the tunnel, because the fear is too great, the darkness is too dark. Trying to drag them out of this tunnel is more likely to make them curl up and hide than do any good.

For men, in particular, this approach can backfire greatly. Men, by their very nature, are trained not to talk about their issues. We have been told, since the moment we could understand, that ‘men’ don’t ask for help. It has been ingrained upon our very psyche that to show weakness or vulnerability is to go against everything that defines what a ‘man’ is. It doesn’t matter that those stereotypes are hopelessly wrong, and decades out of date. The instinctual reaction for a male is to insist they don’t need help, that they can manage by themselves. Indeed, any pressure on a man to open up, or to accept help, often backfires. Men revert into themselves, put up emotional barriers, and shut down. You can’t force anyone to open up at the best of times, and pressuring a man when he’s at his lowest ebb will create more problems than it solves.

What you need to do is be there for them. If they talk, just listen. Don’t talk, don’t give them opinions. Just really listen. When I was at my worst, everybody I tried to talk to would give me an opinion on how I could ‘make things better’. The thing was, I wasn’t asking for an opinion. I just wanted to relay how I felt, and for the person to listen, give me a hug and reassure me that however long it took, they would stay in the darkness with me until I found my own way out. Yet no-one listened. They talked, and they advised, and they suggested, and they tried to help, but they didn’t LISTEN. That, more than anything, is what you need to do. Sit with them, let them talk. However upsetting or shocking what they say is, don’t give advice, just listen. When they finish, hug them, tell them you love them, and that however long it takes, you will be there until they find the strength to get better. You will never be able to lead someone out of the dark tunnel, all you can do is stay in the tunnel with them until they feel strong enough to lead themselves out.

Yes, it’s hard. In many ways, hearing my loved ones tell me about their darkness was worse than living in my own. Yes, it’s often thankless. And yes, at times, you will feel rejected. But don’t give up on them. Support them, love them, and be there for them until they find the strength to get better.

And most of all, when they talk, listen.

 

Photo—Chris Barber/Flickr

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About Andrew Lawes

My name is Andrew Lawes, and I am afflicted with a condition definable only as the Lawes Disorder. I share my Uncensored Reflections each week exclusively on the Good Men Project, every Friday at 13:30 (10:30 Pacific time, 18:30 UK time).

I am also writing a series of books, based around my experiences of mental health issues, addiction, my career as a Support Worker for adults with learning difficulties, as well as a book about Newcastle United. Find out more about them at LawesDisorder.com

If you wish to get to know me on a more personal level, please do so either through Facebook.com/LawesDisorder  or  Twitter.com/LawesDisorder.

To contact Andrew Lawes, please use the above links, or email directly to [email protected]

Comments

  1. Jocelyn Santana says:

    Thisi is an important article and one that I hope helps loved ones of depressed partners. I experienced the worst kind of abusive anger, verbal/emotional abuse from my soon to be ex husband when I was in the darkest depression of my life. His lack of empathy, angry helplessness and witholding of emotional connection almost led me to kill myself. He admits that he just doesn’t understand depression and he stays away from things he does not understand and calls depression “my crotch.” Amazingly enough, I am not depressed even though we are divorcing and i was demoted from my job. Once I was well enough to see that I was in an abusive relationship, the depression lifted. Depressed people need love, empathy, not abuse.

    • Pia, I actually had mt fiance leave me the very day that I had a brwak down and needed him most. Worked on trust and my own issues, and I am slowly beginning to trust that my current partner won’t do the same. He has got me through a job that nearly killed me, my Mother’s death, a serious illness, stress and sometimes serious depression that leaves me unable to even think let alone get anything done. The right person will do all the right things. Don’t be saddened by those who give up – they weren’t willing to give as well as take in the first place.

      • Amen to that! He emotionally abuses me and then unable to leave I go into severe depression for several years. Living like zombie for too long I made the decision that if I was staying I had to make things better. We had been doing better for a year when I discovered his affair. He said he had been unhappy, I wasn’t giving what this man/narcissist needed so he found someone who would. Deciding to stay together we are trying to work things out, but he now appears to have his own depression. I acknowledged that I hadn’t been giving/loving to our marriage and agreed to work on me. However he uses this to justify his affair, and fails to see that it was his emotional abuse of me that ultimately lead to our falling apart. He still cannot see how his past behavior led to this, and I feel his depression is the result of him not addressing his own issues, how he treats me, and his failure to follow through on many, many important things (control everything yet doesn’t do much that is positive to improve HIS situation. His health is deterioating, our finances are in the toilet, spends too much time devoted to job and ignores our problems (since they’re all my fault). Yet he wonders why things don’t improve. I know why but he refuses to look within himself and the result is depression. I really doubt that he’ll do much of the “hard work” to pull out of it leaving our marriage in jeporday. I still wonder why he didn’t leave when I found out about affair. Maybe subconscienously he knows that isn;t the answer, or she wouldn’t leave her husband. I guess I’ll nevr know that answer.

  2. I started crying as I read this article. I have suffered from clinical depression for 23 of my 35 years, and I know that people are at their wits’ end trying to deal with me, and I don’t have an answer for them, nor have I ever been able to pull myself out of it for more than a few weeks at a time. I am going to forward this article to them in the hopes that it will be easier to understand the problem if it comes from someone other than myself… Thank you.

  3. So listening is very important, I hear that. But how do you deal or comfort a depressed partner(loosely used term) who refuses to talk. For 2 years I’ve been dying to hear anything real come from his mouth, anything regarding how he feels and what brought about this vicious change in personality. The closest he gets is when he’s so drunk he can’t walk straight…that’s the only time he opens up about how miserable he is. It’s so sad. Other wise, it’s almost like he’s become an unfeeling, robot version of himself. Even most of his laughter doesn’t sound real..

    • Monica – Please get some help for yourself to get through this, either through Al-Anon or a counselor or both. I have struggled with depression for years myself, and I can’t say strongly enough that it does not excuse not working on getting healthy and trying to do right by the people around us. You need to protect yourself and take care of yourself first and foremost. I can see that you care very much for this person, but his refusal to even talk with you has got to be hard on you and, I’d argue, pretty unfair. Get some help and support from people who understand how to deal with these problems. Lot of free support groups out there if money is the issue. Good luck.

    • Monica … I think we have a lot in common. After financial and legal problems, the man I love has turned into a monster. He tells me he feels empty, a no good bum, he also tells me that the person he was is gone. One day he said he hates his life … He hates his job … He hates coming home. He also drinks too much and this is not helping finances, he drinks at home, but that is money going out each month that could be used for bills. He doesn’t see it that way. He gets angry when I try to have a reasonable discussion about it, he is in denial, and he always tells me he doesn’t want to talk about it (whatever the subject), if it has to do with our relationship or too much drinking. He always tries to blame outside himself, he lies, and turns it on me somehow. He says things that don’t make any sense.
      I found out there is an Alanon meeting nearby, I think I will try that for myself … I have talked to a counselor for myself, can’t afford to go again, but the one visit helped as she knows him.
      I keep praying for a miracle. This is so hard. Hope you are ok, would like to share experiences with you.

  4. Christian Lyons says:

    As a lifelong depressive who self-medicated for twenty-some years, this article rings true. Unfortunately, the downside to this debilitating illness is: we often don’t WANT to burden others with our problems, and so would rather keep quiet than force someone listen to the “woe is me” talk. When we’re depressed, we’re also hypersensitized to how others might react, and choose silence over talk, even if it’s with a therapist. At least that’s how it manifests for me.

  5. Duncan Rogers says:

    Very insightful article. However it seems incongruous to me to say at one point “What you must remember is that depression isn’t a mood – it’s a very debilitating illness.” and then at the end of the piece imply the very thing you argue against, that the loved ones should just hang in there until “they find the strength to get better.”. As if the person with depression just needs to buck up and “find the strength” to get better. While the rest of the piece shares some thoughtful, articulate insights…that last bit undermines it.

  6. GAYLE SPULNIAK says:

    FasterEFT can remove depression! Find a practioner! Now!

  7. silent_scope says:

    What if the person you love refuses to seek professional treatment for their depression, starts lying about anything and everything, actively seeks to drive a wedge between you and eventually refuses to talk/communicate at all? How does one continue to be supportive when all the above is causing you to lose confidence and become depressed?

  8. This is a very important article. I feel people do not understand how to cope or deal with a SO that has depression. I dealt with my SO’s for 6 years, it started a few months after we started dating. Insomnia was a big part of it during the night and thus she would sleep all day. I would spend countless hours during the night just listening, sometimes talking when she wanted me to tell her something about me or just plain watching TV until her body would get too tired and eventually fell asleep and I would sleep, waking up just a few hours later to get to work and the cycle started again.

    I was 16 at that time, there was no internet, or at least it was not as vast and open as things are now, and I wish I would have had some sort of article like this one to guide me but there wasn’t and I had to go use a trial and error approach, and just use my gut with whatever my heart told me was right.

    Eventually I realized psychiatrist wasn’t making any sense to her or me, she dropped off the meds that made her act like she was in la la land, her family was pushing her to do, act, think, confront, etc. I understood her times were not ours and patience was a must. Eventually she overcame her depression that had been triggered due to an external situation in her life, we lived together a couple more happy years and split up ( her decision). I do not regret a single moment of those sleepless nights, talks and the time we spent together. She showed me a lot about this sickness w/o doing it on purpose, and I feel luck y to know I’ve seen it in the eye and managed to do what was right at the time.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This is the second in a series of essays on depression from some of the Good Men Project’s most valued voices. The first in the series is here. [...]

  2. [...] on depression by some of the Good Men Project’s most valued voices. The first two parts are here and [...]

  3. [...] on depression by some of the Good Men Project’s most valued voices. The first three parts are here, here, and [...]

  4. [...] read there, but the site sounds like an excellent idea!  You should read their article about living with someone who has depression.  Good Men Project also republished my latest [...]

  5. [...] How to love someone with depression. [...]

  6. […] How to Love Someone With Depression – This is an old article, one which I know I have read before, and I am pretty sure I have linked it on this blog before as well. But I don’t think it can be shared too often. If you have someone in your life who has been diagnosed with depression, be they friend or family, please take a minute or two and read this. It outlines what depression feels like and what you should and should not do in your effort to help. […]

  7. […] recently read an article (http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/how-to-love-someone-with-depression/) that has helped me to continue to gain insight into myself, my life, and how to “move […]

  8. […] 19, 2012 BY ANDREW LAWES 48 COMMENTS   […]

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