Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

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.

Like this article?

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly round up of our best articles



My, name is Maria, I’m having a hard time with my boyfriend friend, he safer of depression, I been trying to helping him for 3 years, I feel hopless nothing that I say or do is good enough for him, I been reading a lot about of depression and it is helping me to understand a bit more. I feel that I’m not good enough for him and I blame my self a lot. I love to hear some advice. Sorry about my English I’m from Portugal


My boyfriend of 1 year has been having bouts of depression over the last 6 months. It happens almost every 2 months and lasts for usually 3 weeks. Another bout started yesterday and this time it seems to be particularly bad. Idk how to deal with it because his trigger this time seems so trivial that it’s becoming very hard for me to be empathetic especially because yesterday he was the meanest to me he’s ever been. The trigger was that his friend got a new phone and he’s been wanting one for the last couple of month or so but saving up money has been hard. He’s completely pushed me away to the point that for the first time in a year we didn’t interact in our class (we’re uni students). We’re in a place where access to mental health care isn’t really ideal so i don’t know what to do. I feel so helpless. I myself battle with anxiety and his episodes and behaviour flare up my over worrying tendencies too. Please help.


My boyfriend has been diagnosed with depression and has taken a step away from me to “sort himself out ”
He has left a relationship which he was very unhappy in to be with me, he has set up his own home and has shared access to his son.
I have my own home and my daughter to look after so we don’t spend a lot of time together as it is, but he has stopped overnight stays at my house and I have taken his depression very personally because the only thing he has taken a step away from is me nothing or nobody else and it hurts, all I get from him is he can’t explain it and it’s all in his head and that he doesn’t stay because he doesn’t want to wake me up when he’s being restless, I’ve assured him a lot! That I don’t care about that but then he says to me ” stop pushing ”
I’ve decided now to stop making plans to see him because I’m just getting so disheartened with trying and just hearing no all the time, I want to see if he’ll ask to see me, he txts to say he loves me though, I miss what we had so much and I feel so lonely without him, if we didn’t work together I wouldn’t see him at all and I can’t help think if we didn’t work together, would we still be together tbh.
I love him so much but I feel so rejected by him and angry


Jane, I dont know if this reply is too late, but as someone who has been the depressed one in a relationship and who was with someone who is depressed, I truly believe he only pushes you away BECAUSE he cares about you. When you’re depressed you see yourself as a burdon to the ones you live more than anyone else. And as much as you want those people to support you, in the depressed person’s mind you also are convinced that the ones you love the most would be better off if they did not have to deal with you.

I know its extremely hard to see it this way but if he didn’t live you he wouldn’t be pushing you away. It’s hardest to see the ones you love the most be let down by your behavior.

That being said you also need to take care of yourself or you’re not going to be able to be there for him. Take a step back when it hurts the most. But know that the reason he pushes you so hard is because in his own way he’s probably trying to protect you from his depression.


To All, not sure if this has already been mentioned – but another great resource I have found is the Depression Fallout book by Anne Sheffield and accompanying message board. Really awesome community of people who are going through the same thing with a depressed loved one.



I broke up with my boyfriend while depressed because of constant fighting and negative comments. He was working a lot and had made comments that he didn’t need me. Breaking up with him cause my mild- moderate depression to turn into deep depression. Horrible crying fits, total feelings of hopelessness and dark thoughts. After 19 days apart, I blocked him from everything and had rare communications with him over these days, he now will not forgive me for breaking it off with him. We are talking and spending time with one another but it’s hard. He will not commit and isn’t close to how he was before all the fighting. He doesn’t want to hear anything about how I’m feeling and says he has his own stuff to worry about- he can’t help me . I don’t know what to do. I feel so lost and broken. I want to feel like I had unconditional love but it’s not there….


You are not broken, just hurting. You both are. It sounds like you two do care for one another but maybe take this time to talk to someone so you can start helping yourself feel better. You have to care about yourself first and the stronger you get the clearer everything else will become. He will stick around or he won’t but i can tell you from experience it will get better. It always does. It will take time and one day at a time but it will get better. Please believe this. Therapy has helped me so much and its worth getting yourself better to become happier again.


thank you for a very helpful article
my partner of 12 yrs is having a hard time at the moment
he has a phobia of blood and saw an accident and had to help but got covered in blood now he is pushing me away so much so that he has told me to move out
he feels trapped not happy and that everybody looks at him and thinks everything is ok and family borrowing money didn’t help
he has been working away on a job for the last six months and I have been here looking after the business and his child (had a lot of trouble with ex as well)
doesn’t want to go on holiday we have booked as can’t be bothered
told me to take someone else
I don’t know what to do part of me wants to run I have a house but no job as I work for our business
the other part wants to stay here and support him, up until 6 weeks ago every week he would ask me not to leave him as he would be lot without him telling me he loves me everyday
and this week he said that we have nothing in common and he feels like I’m a debt he has to pay (we have renovated his house) and asking me to look after his son is asking too much
im at a loss at what to do !!!
he won’t go and seek help as he doesn’t think he is depressed just exhausted when I suggest he gets angry
told him to go to doctors and get blood tests as he admitted its part of the problem but he said he can’t face it
any word of wisdom ?


Sounds like he thinks he’s a burden (which is classic in depression). The only thing you can do is tell him you love him and support him. If he went through a traumatic experience talking to someone could def help but he has to be willing to. Depression pushes people away. It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlpool once you have a toe in. It sucks. You could also try talking to someone as well. Could also check out the book ‘Mindful way through depression’ i believe is called. Wish you the best of luck. It will be a tough road just do what you can for as long as you can and reread the above article as much as you need to. It helped me when i was getting frustrated at times. Just remember its ultimately up to him to choose his path no matter how much you guide him. From what I’ve seen it always get worse before better and even then it could take awhile. They need support the most in these times but it’s hard for them to accept it. Don’t forget to take care of yourself too please.


So this will probably be the last update for awhile. It’s been 6 months and 4 since he moved. I went up to visit my brother and bf lives an hour from him. I knew it would be a combined trip. I thought maybe seeing him in person would give me more insight. He didn’t want to see me. Didn’t even want to talk about it. Angry texts and a threat to really not talk to me. Which he barely does as it is. I told him i would see him before i left and maybe he was surprised i followed through. He didn’t yell or be mean in person, just sat in the car and talked for an hour. It was hard for him to look at me. He asked when i was leaving and i said i could stay another day if he wanted to see me again. Lunch after work the next day, he’ll me know. Neither of us communicated until i was back in the area close to when he got off work. He said he was busy and wouldn’t have time sorry. Didn’t matter if i would wait and states he didn’t realize i had stayed. Couple more angry texts and no meet. I guess it was just too hard for him. At this point i know there’s nothing else i can do right now. I can only hope he comes out of this remembering how he felt. He knows he’s progressing financially with his life but he doesn’t seem to be any more happy. Seems to still be looking for his purpose. One day he’ll realize there’s more to life than money and his true purpose includes love. But until he believes he can have both there’s nothing to do.


Leave a Reply

We’d love to hear what you’re thinking ...

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.

Hey Sigmund on Instagram