Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When Someone You Love Has Depression

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When Someone You Love Has Depression.

Depression builds walls around people and between people. When someone you love has been dragged inside those walls, there can be a distance between you both that feels relentless. You miss them, but they’re right there beside you, except that they’re kind of not. Not in the way you both want to be anyway.

The symptoms of depression exist on a spectrum. All of them are normal human experiences, but in depression they’re intensified. Not everyone who has depression will have a formal diagnosis, so knowing what to watch out for can help to make sense of the changes you might notice.

Depression looks like a withdrawal. It feels that way too. It’s a withdrawal from everything that is enriching and life-giving. Depression sucks the life out of life. That’s how it feels. When depression bites, everything becomes hard. Life starts to hurt. Those who are bitten stop looking forward to things. They stop engaging and they stop enjoying things, even the things they used to love. They can feel hard to reach, and sometimes they can be angry or appear as though they don’t care. That isn’t because they want to withdraw from you or push you away, they don’t, although it can feel that way. 

Here are some ways to fight for them, beside them and for the times the fight has to be theirs, behind them:

  1. Depression is never a choice.

    If people with depression could be happy, they would be. Depression leaves people feeling as though they’ve been scooped out with a spoon. It’s a hijacking of everything that feels good. The hopelessness, emptiness and loneliness is relentless. If they knew how to be any other way, they would be. 

  2. It’s okay to feel frustrated or angry.

    The helplessness of loving someone with depression can be frustrating, exhausting and lonely. It’s okay to feel angry at times, or as though you want to throw your hands in the air and walk away. You’re human and when you love someone with depression, there will be times that you’ll be in the arena too, fighting the battle. Remember that you’re fighting a common enemy and it’s depression, not the person beside you. Try to see through the symptoms to the person you know, because they’re in there.

  3. Depression is a withdrawal, but not from you.

    When you love someone with depression it can feel as though you’ve lost them for a while. The person you’ve always known and loved is still there, but they’ve withdrawn into themselves, away from the pain and hopelessness of it all, not away from you. It just feels like the safest place to be, but it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have you right there with them if they knew how to do that.

  4. You’re grieving too.

    Depression steals people. If the depression has been around for long enough, you might feel a sense of grief. If you need to get angry, sad, or fall to your knees some days, that’s okay. You’re fighting a battle too. It’s okay to pull back to recharge now and then. Be kind to yourself and do something that replenishes you. Reach out to someone, but don’t lean on the person with depression. People with depression already see themselves as a burden, and anything that inflames that might cause them to withdraw even more.

  5. When nothing is as powerful as something.

    People with depression won’t always have the words and will feel the burden of being with you when they don’t know what to say or do. Let them know that you love that version of them too – the one that has nothing to say, or plenty to say but no will to say it. Let them know that you’re there for them even if they don’t want to talk. Silence with someone can be lovely when you’re depleted. ‘You don’t have to be anyone different to who you are. You don’t need to change or pretend or put on a happy face. I love you and I’m here for you.’

  6. People with depression are strong.

    People with depression are some of the strongest people I’ve met. They have to be. The pain and hopelessness of depression is immense and to keep existing day after day under the weight of that takes an almighty fight, fuelled by almighty strength and courage. 

  7. What they’re doing makes sense.

    We all have needs we can’t give up. They’re the big ones and they’re an inescapable part of being human – love, validation, respect, visibility, safety, influence, connection, appreciation, purpose. You know the ones. When one of these needs isn’t met, the temptation can be to push it down – to ‘depress’ it – to where it’s out of awareness and can’t cause trouble. But of course, any symptom whether physical or emotional will always cause trouble when it’s ignored. It takes the strength of a warrior to keep pushing things down, and getting on with life. Eventually, when people have been strong for too long the armour will crack. Depression hurts, but it makes sense. It’s a creative, adaptive withdrawal from a world that feels painful to be in.

  8. Being positive probably won’t work.

    Reframing things positively is generally done with loving intent, but most likely it just won’t work. The messages that are sent with love will likely be received as ‘nobody understands’. For someone who is being caned by depression, there is no positive. Research has found that people who are already unhappy don’t want to be talked into the glossy view of life, they just want understanding. The view of reality is shaped by a lifetime of experience and sometimes, the way people see the world is exactly the way the world is for them. Trying to push against this can work against what you’re trying to do and intensify the loneliness and desperation of it all. Reframing things in a positive way is important, but it can’t be forced.

  9. So if positive is out, what then?

    You don’t have to fix anything or change anything. If there was a way to do that, they would have done it themselves by now. Instead, acknowledge their pain, ‘I know this is really hard for you,’ and validate what they’re going through ‘I know you’re hurting. That’s understandable given what you’re going through’, or ‘I know you’re fighting a tough battle right now.’ Be the one who can be with them without having to change them. This will probably explode your own feelings of helplessness, but reworking things towards a positive angle will ease your helplessness, not theirs. That helplessness you’re feeling is the bit you’re doing together. So is the pain and the confusion of that. That’s what makes your love unconditional and your support something extraordinary.

  10. Try not to let the negative talk go on and on and on and on and …

    It’s really important to hear people from where they are, but if the discussion of a negative thought goes on and on and on and starts to feel circular, it’s not good for anyone. It’s called rumination and it can make it harder to move through depression. Talk about it with them for sure, but try to persuade the conversation in a different direction after a while if you can.

  11. If you’re struggling for words, let those be the words.

    There’s no need to gloss it up. The truth is that it’s hard to know what to say because there’s nothing that can take away the pain. Don’t worry about saying the ‘right’ thing, there is no right thing. Instead say the ‘real’ thing with love and an open heart. Share what you’re feeling, because chances are that they’re feeling it too. Common ground will shrink the distance between you. You might not be depressed, but chances are you’ll be feeling a lot of the things they’re feeling – sadness, confusion, frustration, helplessness, and the greatest wish that you knew how to make it better. ‘I wish that you weren’t in so much pain and I wish I knew how to soften things for you, but I don’t know how to do that. What I will do is be here for you for as long as it takes.’

  12. Ask them what you do that doesn’t help. And listen.

    Depression can be different for everyone. You can’t be expected to know how to respond. Ask what they need from you and whether there’s something they need you to do differently. Be open to the response and don’t take it personally.

  13. Don’t ask them what they’re depressed about.

    When people are sad they generally have an idea of why. Depression doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes people will be aware of what has triggered their depression, but sometimes it won’t be obvious. On paper, people with depression can look as though they have everything to be happy about – they can even believe that themselves – but depression doesn’t play by any rules.

  1. Try to initiate the things they used to love, that depression has stolen.

    At a time when people need connection the most, depression forces distance. Do everything you can not to let it. Connection and positive feelings strengthen the brain against depression, and exercise can cause the same changes in the brain as antidepressants. The problem is that the very nature of depression will hold people back from doing any of these. Don’t wait for them to feel like doing things. They won’t. Their depression won’t let them. Depression is there to nurture withdrawal, remember. It does this by stealing motivation, and creating exhaustion. Be tender, gentle and loving and reintroduce them to life, connection, and positive feelings. You’re likely to get resistance, and a lot of it. Know that this isn’t personal and do what you can do anyway.

  2. Another reason to initiate.

    Thoughts, feelings and behaviours are intimately connected. They tend to follow each other, so someone with depression will think depressed thoughts (‘Nothing makes a difference’; ‘I’m useless’), feel depressed feelings (pain, hopelessness, exhaustion) and this will drive depressed behaviour (withdrawal and a depressed mood). A change in one will eventually lead to the other but the change is unlikely come from the person with depression. Out of the three, thoughts and feelings are the toughest to change. They’re tenacious. This is why things like, ‘get over it’ or ‘it’s not that bad’ or ‘just try to be a bit positive, hey?’ won’t work. The best way is through their behavior, but you’ll have to be stronger than their depression. Initiate walks, dinners, holidays – anything that has the potential to create positive feelings. Take their hand and lead them there gently.

  3. They are not broken.

    There is nothing abnormal about the symptoms of depression. They’re a very normal part of human experience, but with an intensity that’s relentless. We’ve all felt sad, disconnected, the need to withdraw, hopeless, helpless, exhausted, and as though the fun has faded for a while These are all common experiences, even if only fleetingly at times and from the kinder end of the spectrum. What makes these very human experiences lead to a diagnosis of depression is a question of degree. People with depression experience the same we all experience, but at a different intensity, duration, or cluster of symptoms. 

Depression rarely takes hold of just one person. When depression settles into someone, helplessness, fear and sadness bleed through the walls it builds around that person and into the lives of those who love them. It’s exhausting for everyone. There is always a way through depression but it takes an almighty fight. You won’t always have it in you to fight alongside them and you won’t always know what to do but that’s okay – you don’t have to do any of that to fight for them. Few things are as powerful as human connection and anything you can do to nurture that will help to put back what depression strips away.

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119 Comments

Rockiie

My girlfriend is going through depression and this article just helped me a bit but what I’m wondering is how do I keep myself from losing my mind… I’m very impatient and I feel like I’ve lost her. And sometimes the way she blocks me out or doesn’t talk to me for a day or two straight makes me really angry and confused and sometimes I just want to leave… I could never leave, I love her too much… but I feel like my heart being shattered into a million pieces because I miss her so much… I just feel like I need to stay strong for her and not being myself down but at the same time I feel like it’s dragging me down as well and idk how not to feel that way…

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sid

If you love her you will continue patience and when she pushes you away you will stay by her side.

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Cheri

Same here! With my boyfriend!!!!
How do you handle the space???
Like he needs space, I’m okay with that, I can do space, but how do I keep telling myself he still does love me? Like, will the depression or could the depression make him leave me???
I guess my biggest fear, is, I will stay and try to work through this, because I love him, and he’s just gonna fall out of love with me anyways?!

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EMC

Cheri,
I know exactly how you feel. My husband of two years has struggled with depression his entire life. He has recently said he has been thinking of moving out and he there is no joy in his life. He is seeking counseling but said he didn’t want to give me any hope that things would change. I have no clue what I did wrong. He says it’s not me it’s these feelings he has that he can’t explain. He says he feels like he has lost himself. I do everything I can to minimize any stress or anxiety. I am supportive and I validate his feelings. It’s just very difficult.

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Janis

I’m dealing with the same issue with my boyfriend of 2 years, we live together and he’s recently admitted he’s depressed. But has also said he’s ‘confused about us’ and struggles with the future and the unknown. I feel as though he is projecting his issues on me, making me feel like I’m the issue. He hasn’t asked for space and I told him I’d be supportive and do whatever he needs… but I feel sooo neglected and don’t honestly believe he loves me when he says it. He’s not the same person and I miss him and us. My fear is also that I’m holding on only to get my heart broken in the end. Hes suffered from depression in the past and told me about it.

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Cheyenne

Going threw samething ten years now. Have 2 kids with her 9 year old and 7 month old. She kicks me out every few months. Then has me come back next day. I just want her to go try to get help so it stops happiness infront of the kids.

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Millie

These points are so right on, I only wish I would have found this earlier.

My significant other and I have been in a long distance relationship for the last 9 months (We’ve been together for over 6 years) – 3 months ago, he shut the world out, including me and all of his close friends. He found himself in a dark place, and just decided he wanted to be happy and didn’t feel the same way about “us” anymore. I’ve been careful with my words, not to plead with him; but instead to let him know I care.

When he is here I can recognize and react to the depression, when he is away, it’s not as easy. And this time he wouldn’t let me in.

All I know is that I love him, and I know in my heart that he loves me too. I pray everyday that he will have a change of heart and he’ll remember that.

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desperate wife

My husband of 2 years is depressed also.. he’s been without a job for a while and is struggling to find one. He has begin to withdraw from me, my family and all of our friends. He used to love working out and now he just eats whatever and doesn’t want to go to the gym – an activity he enjoyed the most. He sits me down every few days to tell me how he’s unhappy and doesn’t love me.. and he keeps ruminating about how we got married. I don’t know if its depression talking or really him. It seriously kills me when he talks like this. Not sure what to do – I’ve told him a hundred times and even looked up therapists for him. I want him to get help. He’s looking for jobs all over the US so he can move out. I don’t know what to do. Everyone says to just be patient and give him space and all will be okay but I don’t know.

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Desperate Husband

Desperate Wife, I’m a depressed husband going through the same thing, where do we go, when everyone says be patient or be strong and stand by there side. Others say leave them, but with kids, house and family the roots are hard to be torn out. My heart is broken she make me feel like I’ve done something wrong, threatens to leave or trust to kick me out?
The struggles we have, it’s not fare…..

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Tina

My Husband lost both his parents within 8 weeks of each other in January 16. He now seems to have a delayed grief reaction and very depressed. He has hit rock bottom telling me he’s scared that he doesn’t love me anymore with the way he is feeling. I am heartbroken. Been together 20 years with 3 beautiful children. We were so in love with a very strong marriage and now it’s falling apart. He says he needs time away from me to see if he does love me. I’m heartbroken.

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Sadness

My husband has been depressed with high levels of anxiety for going on 5 years (and most of uis life). He refuses to see a therapist. Will only take meds to help him sleep. I’m trying tobe patient, to listen, to know the depression is what’s talking. But, after 5 years I am spent. The continued negativity, inability to recognize how his actions are causing conflict, and not taking action to help himself is killing me. I fight depression too so I know where he is but I am running out of steam. I keep reading these things looking for hope and what to do but it always lands back on the person who is depressed and unmotivated to do anything about it. It’s a vicious circle. 🙁

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Lizzie

My boyfriend of two years is pushing me away and thinks he has to be alone to deal with his depression, I want to be there for him no matter what but everything I say he just says he needs to do it by himself. I worry this will make him feel even more alone because be hasn’t even told any friends he is depressed.

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Malteaser

My now ex is going through an extremely bad patch. The other day he went extremely down hill and went to see a psychiatrist the following day, after seeing her I didn’t hear from him until the following day where he explained everything that she mentioned and for him to tell me that he was breaking up with me as the psychiatrist had told him to cut all contact with everyone including his family. For him to go away for 3 months or however long it takes to clear his head.Its killed me as it’s come out of the blue, but him being by himself surely that is no good and only going to make him worse? I am so so worried about him, and want to help him anyway I can! I’m at a loss of what to do or how to proceed but I hate not being able to do anything for him.

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Hugo

It is very hard to read all these comments here. So many people broken, life shattered because of one stupid word depression ! I do not have any solution to that problem. It is just hard to believe it is so common theses days… or has it always been like that ? And also it seems it mostly affects men ?
I am the depressed person, or maybe I am not. This is what I don’t understand. At age of 38 I lost my wife and been left with 5yrs old daughter. I ve known my wife for 20yrs, so most of my life. Now , you could say that it is a valid reason for a depression, but is it ?
The time has gone by, I have started dating the girls again and the same pattern seems to occur. I am excited at first, having great time, sometimes getting involved in intimate way, but very quickly I am loosing interest. It is as if I am looking for a wife in those girls and realising it is not going to happen, I withdraw . Of course hurting the girls and they think I am an ordinary dickhead like a lot of the guys. This is like a vicious circle. I’ve decided to stop dating though I hate to be alone. But hurting other girls hits me even harder. I really don’t want to do that and yet I am doing it. Dr Jackyll Mr Hyde. I hate it and I don’t recognize myself. I think I am a scumbag for hurting those girls.
Bottom line is, I feel so sorry for you ladies that a partner is withdrawing from you either having or hiding behind the depression. Life is a strange journey and I am trying to remember it is also short, so even if you have to go on hurting all your life, stay strong for something , someone . Be it yourself, children, husband, hobby. For there always is a sunrise after the sunset, whether be it in this or the next life. Try not to look and worry to far ahead. Find a little beautiful thing, take a deep breath and carry on even if you feel like you can’t anymore.
Ha ha , I am giving an advice , needing one myself 🙂 . Well as they say , the best way to learn something is to try to teach it someone else ! Gives a different perspective. Big smile to all of you depressed or struggling with the depressed person. 🙂 .

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un

hi, i suffer from depression and did not know what was going on with me, my girlfriend couldnt take it and she broke up with me and moved out, i have since got help and im on anti depressants but she wont contact me or respond to me, she has blocked me off every platform. do you think i will be able to fix things?

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Christoper G

Wow hearing some of these stories kinda makes you lose hope. I’ve only been with my girlfriend for a year now but outta no where she just completely shut me out. It’s been about 2 months since we’ve even had a conversation and the situation is feeling hopeless. I think I can make her feel better but where do I start when I can’t even get her to talk to me and I don’t want to force the issue on her. I love her and am trying to be patient but eventually you start to wonder is it the depression taking form in her life he do she just not love me anymore?

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Karen Young

Christopher don’t lose hope. Depression can be a big challenge not only for the people who have it, but also for the people who love them. At some point, there are things that we will all struggle with. For the time being, it is your girlfriend who is struggling. Do what you can to love her and support her, if that’s what she wants, but also take care of you. You can support her, but you can’t do her growth for her – this is her journey. I wish we could do that for the people we love, but we can’t. Also remember that it is an illness, not a personality and there is a way through depression – many people move through depression and live happy, fulfilled lives. I hope you and your girlfriend are able to find your way through to this.

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Chris G

I too hope so. ITs just when we are together she’s so much better or so it seem so at least. That’s what I do dont understand why She chose to go it alone. But I’m patient and persistent, but it seems discouraging when call states and text and any other attemtps contact her gin ignored. IF gives a feeling of why keep trying?

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Chris G

Yeah that pretty much sums it up. I want to help her anyways I can but I don’t know how to reach her

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Heart Sick Man

Living with someone suffering from depression is absolutely brutal. I’ve read several articles over the last few weeks that at least helped me make sense of what is going on with my wife. But I can’t say that they make me actually feel better. I was very confused when this wonderful woman I married, with her bright and sunny disposition, began to recede and transform before my very eyes. She began spending all her time in bed and on her cell phone or computer. She began finding faults and criticizing all these little things my kids were doing (my biological, her step), which then turned into a full-scale assault on the way I parent them. We’ve been together nearly four years, married almost three. At the beginning, she absolutely loved my kids. And I love her two VERY much. But over time, she has gotten more and more critical and disapproving of *my* kids, and over the last few months it seems like the only things she has to say about them are negative. It’s like she doesn’t see any of the positive things that they are doing in school or sports or anything else. They are teenage boys and she told me about a month ago that they are SO rude and disrespectful to her that she can’t even stand to be here any more. And then she actually moved out for about three weeks before she decided she wanted to come back and try to make things work. When I asked her what they were doing that was so bad and why she thought they were so rude and disrespectful to her (because I’ve never heard them talk ugly to her), she said that sometimes when she asks them how their day was it’s like they don’t even respond or she gets like a one word response. Well, yeah. They are teenagers. I get the same from them. Some days they’re chatty, some days they’re kind of sullen and quiet.

Before she moved out about a month ago and since she’s come back, she pretty much spends all her time in bed, and she is still convinced that we are the reason she is so unhappy. I’ve read all the articles about how I just need to be patient, don’t make her feel bad for how she is making me feel, let her know I still love her even the way she is right now, pick up the extra load (which I have been for a good while now, doing all the cooking, chores, taking kids to school and activities and what not)… oh, and don’t take the way she is treating me or the things she is saying personally. But you know what, honestly that is asking a hell of a lot of somebody. I’m supposed to suck it up, take care of all of my kids, my mom’s needs (she has chronic health problems and I help take care of her, too), and my depressed wife. I’m doing all those things, without any thanks or appreciation from the person who matters most in the world to me, and quite honestly I’m exhausted. I really don’t know how much longer I can do this. I feel like her depression is spreading to me and I really don’t want to live that way. Probably the saddest thing is how few of the articles and comments I’ve read from other people going through similar offer any real hope of change. I seriously don’t think I can live like this for the rest of my life. It isn’t healthy. Not for me. Not for my kids. And not for her.

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Karen Young

I wish there was an easy fix for this. You sound like such a wonderfully supportive partner and a loving father and stepfather. It is important to be supportive but being a loving and supportive partner doesn’t mean compromising yourself indefinitely. It is also important that if you are doing everything you can (and it sounds as though you are) that your wife is also doing what she can for herself and her family. That means reaching out for the right support, whether that’s counselling, medication, or the lifestyle tweaks that help with depression.

We all have a responsibility to be emotionally responsible in our relationships and though depression can make this more difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Depression is manageable, and people can certainly find their way back from depression but it does have to come from them. You can’t live someone out of depression. I wish we could, but we can’t. One of the awful things about depression is that the hopelessness and exhaustion can make it more difficult to believe that anything can make a difference but it absolutely can. Know that you matter too and in caring for your wife and supporting her, you also deserve happiness, love appreciation.

(And your teenagers sound wonderfully normal. It’s their job to explore their independence from us, and often that will mean that as they pull away, they stop engaging – but they do come back eventually. It’s all part of the adolescent adventure.)

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