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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187 Comments

Chris G

Update on my situation. I finally got to speak to her but it wasn’t anything I was hoping to hear. We are no longer together for the time being because she said she needs time to find happiness within herself and that she couldn’t love me right now. I don’t understand or agreee with her decision but it’s not up to me, all I can do is respect it. She left me with some hopeful words but at the end of the day the girl I love is gone. Who knows, if me and her are meant to be then somehow we’ll end up together. Only time will tell. Anyways just wanted to let anyone who cared know what happened. I’m sad about it, very sad but it seemed she had her mind made up already so I didn’t even argue it at the risk of hurting myself more than what I was already feeling. Time heals all wounds, remember that people.

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Anne

Thanks for sharing, I’ve just experienced the same thing…my partner leaving the relationship because he’s withdrawn and unable to connect. Feels like he is a completely different person. I don’t feel I’ve had much choice in it at all so am left feeling sad, mad and frustrated.

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Lonely Boyf

Sorry to hear this Chris – it wasn’t meant to be but now you can get some closure…

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Erin

I am going through this right now with my husbsnd. We have 3 kids, and had been together for 13 years. Two of our kids have special needs, so it’s not easy. His issue is with me. On my birthday, he told me that the flirting of a younger coworker was making his rethink his life choices, and he may be going through a midlife crisis . A few days before, he was thinking suicide because he felt his life was falling apart. I lost my job recently, and choose to do freelance from home so I could better support him, but I also work in the national guard, and have enough saved until I get established. I got upset about his crush, and blew up at him. I had to get his parents involved, and he has been staying with them ever since. They got him medically seen, which got him officially diagnosed with massive depression disorder. It is crazy how fast it happened. A month ago, we were good. I noticed he was withdrawing, but things were manageable. We’ve gone through so much together. Two years ago, we went through counseling and fixed another issue. Now it seems there is no going back. I’m full of anxiety, worried I’m going to lose everything we built together. It kills he how easy he tells the kids he lives them, but he can’t for me. I still text and tell him I love and support him, but I don’t know if it helps or hurts. It hurts to hear his voice. I need his support more than ever, and he’s distant and maybe even resentful of me.

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irene mousley

Why do depressed people take it out on the world.. as if the world owes them something? why is it that whatever you do its not good enough..
Am I expected to give up my life to help every single day?

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irene mousley

I’m talking about my daughter. Who has had 2 children and also taken on her nice for the kart 10 years. She is very depressed. Wants a boob job. But can’t afford it as this is getting her very down. She constantly says all the people she has helped and noone has helped her. I try and help as much as I can.. but I work and have problems at home.. nothing I do us good enough.. it’s like I’ve never helped her..I don’t no what to do.. I have an 18 year old who lives at home and frequently smashes the house.. he has mental health issues.. I have another one in prison.. so my work is cut out.. I can’t be there all the time.. to help my depressed daughter.. I try n help where I can.. maybe not enough.. but what I do do..it doesn’t seem good enough.. she seems to hate being a mother..

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Ally

This is something I really needed right now. My absolutely wonderful, funny, beautiful, intelligent and incredible boyfriend has been dealing with depression for many years now. I am very fortunate that we have more good days than bad. For me, the hardest part is when I can feel him starting to take a step back from our relationship and it tends to upset me because I mistake it for him losing interest in me. Thank you for this, Karen – every word rang true to me. I promise I will keep fighting and standing beside my man, he is worth every moment and I love him endlessly.

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Chris G

I can say that was the hardest part for me also, not knowing whether or not my significant other was just losing interest in me or it was the depression. Hopefully your bf over comes his depression and you two are happy together.

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Carla

Hey,
I also wanted to give an update on my situation. I had the chance to skype with my Ex just over two weeks ago and that coversation was awful. He was in a really bad state, but he told me that he felt bad seeing me. He did not want anything to remind him of me because it only hurt him and made him feel guilty. He said he had pushed away his love because it made him feel bad. I really tried to understand what was going on, but he just kept saying that it was too late to save anything. The conversation ended when his computer battery died. He texted a day later and he also unblocked me on whatsapp, but only to say that we had to move on. After that there was no more contact. And then he did not leave a message for my birthday either. I see that he is online all the time on whatsapp and I know that he is surrounded by friends and family. He really doesn’t want or need me anymore for some reason. I have just lost the person I fell in love with. It happened so quickly that I really do not know how to deal with it. There is really no point in holding on, because all I am holding on to is the fact that he can hurt me over and over again. I am so hurt, I am sure it is just as painful as a depression. It’s hard for me to get through every day like this. But I would never hurt the one I love. So, this illness, however it may work, it certainly is not an excuse for hurting people this badly. I think I just have to accept that he is mentally ill and that he will never be the same again. I don’t know how to forget him, but I need to, because otherwise I will just destroy myself and waste my whole life crying and hurting. It’s not supposed to be this way.
Good luck to all of you out there.

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Miona

Hey Carla, I’m sorry to hear that and I’m sorry you’re hurting, you don’t deserve it. I agree that depression isnt e valid reason to hurt someone who cares on purpose. Tbh I can relate to some things you said. I’m with a guy right now that is depressed. The moment he was down his words hurted me. He didn’t call me names, but when he said things like ”I want to die” or ”Secretly i want that, it’s one of my deepest desires, but my brain says, wait, not yet.” These were his words. Tbh I’m scared to build a future with a person who says stuff like that. What if 5-10 y we have children and we go through something. Would he be strong enough to hang on? I don’t want to end up alone. Is that selfish? Am I being selfish to think that? But then again, these are my feelings, are they less important than his? I’m confused. I’ve also had these thoughts about leaving him. Like that feeling deep inside that tells me to just leave him.

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Euan

Thank you for this article. My wife has battled Depression for the last five years or so. It is something she has always attempted to fight by herself. Recently she told me she had thought about a life without me, this was after a number of weeks where he Depression appeared to deepen. We are working through this at the moment and after a couple of weeks, she has told me the way she is feeling is not down to me. She does not know what is causing her to feel withdrawn and has talked about not wanting to hurt me or others by discussing it. I identify with almost all of the above article, including making mistakes in attempting to reframe the positive. The last few weeks have been the most difficult of my life, but I know this is nothing in comparison to how my wife feels. She has agreed to speak to someone and this is a huge step for her. I’m committed to helping her and fighting against the Depression and not fighting my wife. I look forward to updating this in the future, hopefully with a positive outcome for both of us. Thank you again for the article, it will be a daily reminder for me.

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Debbie

For me the article has explained depression and how to support a loved one through it perfectly.
I have lived with my own depression for 26 years, I’m 56 now and, I long for the day I feel released from it, released from the cell I built around myself. Only I have the key, yet I have no idea where I have hidden this key, I hope that makes some sort of sense.
When I’m depressed I can’t find my way out and this is when a helping hand is so vital. When I become anxious it’s because I’m frantically trying to find the key to lock myself back in the cell, when I become panicked it’s because all hope of finding the key has gone and I feel exposed to danger/harm. I have no idea if this is the same for others who are depressed, it’s how I explain it to myself to get through tough times.
I don’t like being depressed, but something deep rooted is stopping me from being anything other than depressed.
I am an average intelligent woman and I know what’s happening and why, but for the life of me I can’t stop it or change it.
I take my meds but sadly one of the side affects is suicide, I was shocked and horrified when I found that out, as I had attempted to take my life several times. How can an anti-depressant make you want to end your life when there supposed to help you feel better?
Life experiences caused my depression or rather triggered it, as I do believe we all can so easily spiral down into depression, it doesn’t discriminate.
I don’t have any friends, either I’ve pushed them away or they have walked away, both is extremely painful to all concerned, by not having any friends I don’t cause another person pain, but it keeps me trapped within depression.
Thanks for reading

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Kim

Thanks for this information. I’ve been in the same situation with my boyfriend since the end of June. He has good day and functions at work but has no motivation to do anything other than what he has to at work. Very emotional for me and frustrating to say the least. Just trying to keep in contact and check on him occasionally. Hoping he returns to his old self when this passes.

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Priscilla

Hello Kim I can relate,
My boyfriend broke up with me on july18, he also can function at work and with others but when he was around me, his and mine he would act differently. He will have his ups and downs from being happy for half the day and agitated aggravated frustrated etc. with me. I felt so alone in the relationship because his love just seem to go away from one minute to another. Anyways I believe that is called a functional depressed person, someone who can just go to work and be responsible out in the world and depressed at home . We are still not together it’s been a month and two weeks that we have broken it off, usually he comes around after the third month of coming off of his depression. He has been going through this from what I know for years and each year seems to be worse as I look back at things. He is not getting any help he doesn’t take any medication and from what I have read they don’t get any better if not getting any help but they do get worse. I also hope he returns to his old self when this passes and then maybe he can get the proper help for himself.

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Leila

Hi there. Thank you so much for the article and the opportunity to talk to someone about my pain. I fell in love with a man who’ s apparently suffering from depression. I didn’t know about it back then when I met him. He was my first and only true love (for I believe the miracle and blessing of true love can be only once in a lifetime). We both were married when we met and both went through the immense pain and guilt of breaking up with previous partners to finally be together ’cause otherwise our lives would have had no sense. And that’s when things started to go wrong. My beloved one gradually started turning into a different person. He started growing more distant and irritable. I could never understand what might trigger it. He could seem positive and cheerful, but the next second he could suddenly turn away and stop talking. When I asked him what was wrong he wouldn’t answer. When I was trying to hug him or kiss him, he would stand stiff like a rock or push me away. And that could last for days or weeks till after my another attempt to talk to him or hug him he would suddenly hug me back and thank for not leaving him and being so patient. He had had his “moods” before, but I had never thought it was a real problem until I started living with him. The worst thing is his unstable mood and toxic behaviour. He can be loving and tender one day and then turn into a different person saying that I’ve never understood him, that I think badly of him and when I try to contradict, he starts saying very mean things to me. It’s just breaking my heart to see that any neutral or positive things I do or say get negative interpretation, and proving the opposite makes things even worse, leads to fights. And I still can’t handle it. He told me that he was probably suffering from depression or bipolar disorder at one of his rare moments of “adequacy”. I started looking for any helpful information about these disorders. I would be very grateful for any advice or word of support from anybody who’s been in the same situation. I feel desperate. Sorry for my hectic writing. I’ve just another bad conversation with my partner..

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Leila

Thank you for this article. Some time ago the man I love admitted he was suffering from a chronic depression. I am not sure whether he was diagnosed by a specialist or it is self-diagnosis. I wish I could be a better partner for him and do everything I could to make him feel more comfortable. The problem is he is very inconsistent and self-contradictory in everything he says. I am totally confused about what to do. One day he says that I should never come up to him when he is in a bad mood and I should give him privacy. Another day he says that what he really wants me to do is hug him in such situations “ just ignore what I said and hug me”. When I tell him that I’m confused he gets annoyed and says that I never listen to him (when all I do in fact is listen) and don’t understand him. One day he says he is grateful for everything I do for him and in a couple of hours he might say that I am an awful partner and he doesn’t trust me. He is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met and I always trusted his opinion and judgment. I respect everything he says and it’s very hard not to take things personally or to ignore things or to understand what he really needs. What should I do?

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M

This is a tough situation. I have battled depression most of my life and I can say that his contradictory behavior sounds like there is more than depression going on. Depression is no excuse to lash out at people, nor is any other condition or disorder. It sounds like he has you spinning and second guessing yourself and that is not good. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you can’t handle his mood swings, nor are you required to hang in there and take it.

I dont know if this really answers anything for you, just my thoughts on what you said.

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M

Thank you for this article.

I am watching my fiancé slowly fade away into the darkness. I have had my own battle with severe anxiety and depression and I understand what is happening. Still it is so difficult to take. She used to be so affectionate, loving and engaged. Now I watch her face go blank as she stares off into space, her mind wandering, ruminating and racing with negative thoughts. I know that she cannot be present in the moment, she cannot love me because her brain does not have the capacity to do so while it is so filled with darkness, worry, and self loathing.

I am watching the woman that I love disappear into the shadows and I know that I can’t help her, help us, all I can do is watch. Having faced my own demons, I know that she has to fight this fight on her own. Nothing I can do or say will change that. I find myself wondering if the woman I love is gone, if she was ever real in the first place, and I no longer feel the decision to marry her with certainty and that breaks my heart.

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H

Thank you so much for this..

I’ve been driving myself crazy second guessing what could have possibly gone wrong in my relationship, but I can see now I’m not the only one going through this.

Last week completely out of the blue, my boyfriend ended our relationship saying he hadn’t dealt with a particularly bad break up he had last year.
I had no idea he was still feeling like this, and he didn’t give me any signs anything was wrong.

He mentioned he’d had depression last year, and I’m now convinced that’s what is happening now. I know you shouldn’t google, but I wasn’t aware of the signs, and when I did a lot of them related.
He loves his job so absorbs himself into that, and I’m sure he’s probably fine around his friends, but since this happened, he has not spoken to me, other than a text message in which he said he was sorry for being “distant”.

I’d almost convinced myself he must really hate me, as he won’t speak/text, let alone explain, but this article and all the comments are so relatable, maybe he just can’t bring himself to do speak, rather than doesn’t want to?!

Let’s hope in time he can find the words, as this really hurts.

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