When Someone You Love Has Depression

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 The person you’ve always known and loved is still there, but they’ve withdrawn into themselves, away from the pain and hopelessness of it all, not away from you.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.

324 Comments

ck

my gf stays away and she goes thru anxiety and guilty feelings often for no reason she knows.she says she doesnt know why she is the way she is. she ignores my presence. but i want to be there for her and cant leave her like this. not sure how to help her and make her feel better. i cant sit and watch her go thru this. any advise?

Reply
Micaw

Hey everyone,

what a great article, thank you for posting this.

I just started seeing someone about a month ago who recently told me they have depressive episodes. We’ve been on two dates, share the same humour, talked for hours, kissed… all that. And I feel like we really click with each other. Been calling each other a lot but after that they kind of fell silent a couple of days. I felt bad, thought I’d done something wrong or they had lost interest even though they’d said/done the opposite.

When they told me I felt relief to know what’s really goin on (and that they trust me enough to actually tell me..) but at the same time I’m worried I’ll do something wrong. I try to be patient and not to push too much or text them too often even though I’m really really smitten with them.. but if anybody has some advice what else I could do to make them feel.. not better, better isn’t a good word I think. But to feel comfortable.. with me. That’d help a lot.

I really want this to work and I don’t see them as another person ever since they told me but I’m aware of this now and I wish to be there for them. Any help really is appreciated

Reply
Jacque

Thank you so so much. This was so helpful. It has made me feel more confident in my relationship with my boyfriend who is struggling with depression. It’s us against the depression.

Reply
Chantelle

youre not alone. I have been going through the samething with my fiance of 8 years. You have done the hard part which is to walk away and give him space now its just time. Please wait until he gets back rational thinking until this time he wont be able to cope with what a relationship encompasses in general whether its with u or someone else (nothing personal to u) and u will suffer too as u will want to help him but unfortunately this is something that he can only help himself get out of. Maybe ask him what he needs u to do to help but be prepared if one of those things is space from u, dont take it personal it will just allow him time to get back to normal self again and to process hurt or guilt or any negative emotion that he is feeling. Stay strong and continue to show understanding. Remember what will be will be

Reply
Lisa

This is an amazing article. This was exactly what I needed to read. It helps me understand him and also myself. Thank you!!!!

Reply
Rebecca G

Thanks for explaining that depression isn’t a choice since people would choose to be happy if they could. One of my close friends recently told me she’s looking for a psychotherapy service since she’s been struggling with depression for about six months now. I’m glad I read your article so I can better understand what she’s going through and support her however I can during this hard time.

Reply
Sabrina N

I have a friend who was abused by his mother and kicked out of his house when he was 17. He struggles with depression and anxiety, and I don’t know what to do. He pushes me and others away so as not to hurt us because he believes that’s all he can do.

Can someone please tell me what to do or what not to do?

Right now….anything would help.

Reply
Ankur S

Help him in every way you can. Have a heart to heart talk. Trust me, if he pushes you away doesn’t mean he doesn’t need help. People who suffer from depression are unable to login express anything properly and that includes the need for love and help. They are too scared to trust others and can often push away people because of the pain that they carry inside themselves. I too suffer from depression and being in a relationship too has not been able to get me out of it. It’s taken a hold of me and even though it might take a while, I don’t plan on giving up. The same is with your friend. Don’t give up on him and push him to fight as hard as he can. Talking helps. If he is unwilling to talk don’t give up from ur side. Ofcourse you have a life as well and your own plans for your day to day life but even a minute of talking or a help or even a bit of care might help him break the shell he is in and help him reach out to the people that matter to him. Best wishes. And I pray and hope your friend gets better.

Reply
John

Loving someone with any metal illness is like taking the most emotional rollercoaster possible. In my case i’m lucky, i knew my girlfriend had severe issues before we got involved but it doesn’t stop me feeling that i’ve been put through the wringer more often than not. When her mindset is in it’s calm spot i couldn’t be happier, but when the paranoia and self doubt creeps in i take the brunt of it all. one moment we’re talking kids, house and walks on the beach with puppies, next moment were split up…it can be hell !
All i can say to anyone in a serious relationship of any kind with someone suffering mental issues is don’t take it personally, it’s not something they want to do. It’s not something they have a choice about, don’t stop caring and don’t stop believing in yourself. They may get better through treatment or medications, but they also may not. I’ts not something you can wave a magic wand at make go away, And finally….don’t ignore the support you need, get help for yourself before you fall don exhausted. My thoughts and love go to everyone, you’re not alone.

8

Reply
Ciara

Thank you for this. This is what I needed to hear today. My boyfriend broke up with me because he’s depressed and anxious. I know he loves me but all this stuff is eating him up alive

Reply
Natasha

I have the same problem .My BF is depressed from already 3 months .He did split up with me a few times then I bring him back but we don’t meet each other anymore ,he never answer the phone we only texing .He told me he loves me ,same time he spend time somewhere on drugs all the time .He is really in a bad way and I don’t know what to do

Reply
Shirley

I’ve just been diagnosed with nodules on my lungs my boyfriend was depressed before and now he seems worse doesn’t want any intimacy with me making me feel very unloved

Reply
Michelle

Me and my girlfriend just took a break after 1 year+ dating. She said she is scared of me, she told me she felt happy and loved when we both spend time together but she can’t see past the fears for me (showing me her depressed side.). She also doesn’t know if she still loves me. She said sometimes she felt like she miss me and love me so much but the other time it’s zero and I told her that you don’t always have to love me, it’s normal to have normal days sometimes (I’ve asked around and my friends say it’s normal.) this is why she wanted the break.

She still texts me but I try not to to not influence her judgement on whether she loves me or not. The day it happened she suddenly changed to a different person and so cold to me. I cried at her doorstep, it hurts me so much. I wasn’t eating properly for few days. Now after reading this article, I understand her better and know that I can’t take it personally. Thank you so much.

I also took a break to be more patient and understand her situation. She asks me to wait for her and I treat is as if we already broke up so I won’t get so hurt when she gave me a bad news (maybe she doesn’t love me anymore). I even asked her to just break up with me bcs I realised I was hurting her with her being scared of me and it drives me insane. I never wanted to hurt her.

Is it normal for her to feel this way?

What should I do to help her?

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Whenever the brain registers threat, it organises the body to fight the danger, flee from it, or hide from it. 

Here’s the rub. ‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually dangerous, but about what the brain perceives. It also isn’t always obvious. For a strong, powerful, magnificent, protective brain, ‘threat’ might count as anything that comes with even the teeniest potential of making a mistake, failure, humiliation, judgement, shame, separation from important adults, exclusion, unfamiliarity, unpredictability. They’re the things that can make any of us feel vulnerable.

Once the brain registers threat the body will respond. This can drive all sorts of behaviour. Some will be obvious and some won’t be. The responses can be ones that make them bigger (aggression, tantrums) or ones that make them smaller (going quiet or still, shrinking, withdrawing). All are attempts to get the body to safety. None are about misbehaviour, misintent, or disrespect. 

One of the ways bodies stay safe is by hiding, or by getting small. When children are in distress, they might look calm, but unless there is a felt sense of safety, the body will be surging with neurochemicals that make it impossible for that young brain to learn or connect. 

We all have our things that can send us there. These things are different for all of us, and often below our awareness. The responses to these ‘things’ are automatic and instinctive, and we won’t always know what has sent us there. 

We just need to be mindful that sometimes it’s when children seem like no trouble at all that they need our help the most. The signs can include a wilted body, sad or distant eyes, making the body smaller, wriggly bodies, a heavy head. 

It can also look as though they are ignoring you or being quietly defiant. They aren’t - their bodies are trying to keep them safe. A  body in flight or flight can’t hear words as well as it can when it’s calm.

What they need (what all kids need) are big signs of safety from the adult in the room - loving, warm, voices and faces that are communicating clear intent: ‘I’m here, I see you and I’ve got you. You are safe, and you can do this. I’m with you.’♥️
I’d love to invite you to an online webinar:
‘Thriving in a Stressful World: Practical Ways to Help Ourselves and Our Children Feel Secure And Calm’

As we emerge from the pandemic, stressors are heightened, and anxiety is an ever more common experience. We know from research that the important adults in the life of a child or teen have enormous capacity to help their world feel again, and to bring a felt sense of calm and safety to those young ones. This felt sense of security is essential for learning, regulation, and general well-being. 

I’m thrilled to be joining @marc.brackett and Dr Farah Schroder to explore the role of emotion regulation and the function of anxiety in our lives. Participants will learn ways to help express and regulate their own, and their children’s, emotions, even when our world may feel a little scary and stressful. We will also share practical and holistic strategies that can be most effective in fostering well-being for both ourselves and children. 

In this webinar, hosted by @dalailamacenter you will have the opportunity to learn creative, evidence-informed takeaways to help you and the children in your care build resilience and foster a sense of security and calmness. Join us for this 1 ½ hour session, including a dynamic Q&A period.
 
Webinar Details:
Thursday, October 14, 2021
1:30 - 3:00 PM PST
 
Registrants will receive a Zoom link to attend the webinar live, as well as a private link to a recording of the webinar to watch if they cannot join in at the scheduled time.

Register here:
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/thriving-in-a-stressful-world-a-heart-mind-live-webinar-tickets-170348045590

The link to register is in my story.♥️
So much of what our kids and teens are going through isn’t normal - online school, extended separation from their loved people, lockdowns, masks. Even if what they are going through isn’t ‘normal’, their response will be completely understandable. Not all children will respond the same way if course, but whatever they feel will be understandable, relatable, and ‘normal’. 

Whether they feel anxious, confused, frustrated, angry, or nothing at all, it’s important that their response is normalised. Research has found that children are more likely to struggle with traumatic events if they believe their response isn’t normal. This is because they tend to be more likely to interpret their response as a sign of breakage. 

Try, ‘What’s happening is scary. There’s no ‘right’ way to feel and different people will feel different things. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel.’

Any message you can give them that you can handle all their feelings and all their words will help them feel safer, and their world feel steadier.♥️
We need to change the way we think about discipline. It’s true that traditional ‘discipline’ (separation, shame, consequences/punishment that don’t make sense) might bring compliant children, but what happens when the fear of punishment or separation isn’t there? Or when they learn that the best way to avoid punishment is to keep you out of the loop?

Our greatest parenting ‘tool’ is our use of self - our wisdom, modelling, conversations, but for any of this to have influence we need access to their ‘thinking’ brain - the prefrontal cortex - the part that can learn, think through consequences, plan, make deliberate decisions. During stress this part switches off. It is this way for all of us. None of us are up for lectures or learning (or adorable behaviour) when we’re stressed.

The greatest stress for young brains is a felt sense of separation from their important people. It’s why time-outs, shame, calm down corners/chairs/spaces which insist on separation just don’t work. They create compliance, but a compliant child doesn’t mean a calm child. As long as a child doesn’t feel calm and safe, we have no access to the part of the brain that can learn and be influenced by us.

Behind all behaviour is a need - power,  influence, independence, attention (connection), to belong, sleep - to name a few). The need will be valid. Children are still figuring out the world (aren’t we all) and their way of meeting a need won’t always make sense. Sometimes it will make us furious. (And sometimes because of that we’ll also lose our thinking brains and say or do things that aren’t great.)

So what do we do when they get it wrong? The same thing we hope our people will do when we get things wrong. First, we recognise that the behaviour is not a sign of a bad child or a bad parent, but their best attempt to meet a need with limited available resources. Then we collect them - we calm ourselves so we can bring calm to them. Breathe, be with. Then we connect through validation. Finally, when their bodies are calm and their thinking brain is back, talk about what’s happened, what they can do differently next time, and how they can put things right. Collect, connect, redirect.
Our nervous systems are talking to each other every minute of every day. We will catch what our children are feeling and they will catch ours. We feel their distress, and this can feed their distress. Our capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

Children create their distress in us as a way to recruit support to help them carry the emotional load. It’s how it’s meant to be. Whatever you are feeling is likely to be a reflection what your children are feeling. If you are frustrated, angry, helpless, scared, it’s likely that they are feeling that way too. Every response in you and in them is relevant. 

You don’t need to fix their feelings. Let their feelings come, so they can go. The healing is in the happening. 

In that moment of big feelings it’s more about who you are than what you do. Feel what they feel with a strong, steady heart. They will feel you there with them. They will feel it in you that you get them, that you can handle whatever they are feeling, and that you are there. This will help calm them more than anything. We feel safest when we are ‘with’. Feel the feeling, breathe, and be with - and you don’t need to do more than that. 
There will be a time for teaching, learning, redirecting, but the middle of a storm is not that time.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest