Is My Partner Depressed? How Can I Tell?
When the person we love is struggling with something they can neither fix nor explain, as their other half, all we want to do is help.
This is especially true in the case of mental illnesses like depression.
As everyone experiences depression differently, it may manifest in ways your partner may mistake or excuse as something else, like stress or fatigue.
However, as their partner, you may have noticed changes in their mood or behavior. They may often appear sad or tired for long periods or are constantly unmotivated and struggle to get things done.
Signs of depression may also manifest as:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
- Changes in their sleep and appetite
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Inability to keep up with daily activities
- Unexplained physical aches and pains
- Trouble concentrating, making decisions, or thinking
- General dissatisfaction and carelessness
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Trouble concentrating at work and/or school
- Angry or emotional outbursts
- Thoughts/talk of death or suicide
If your partner has depression, offering your love and support can be pivotal in learning how to manage their symptoms and possibly recover.
In this article, we’ll go over what you can do to support a depressed partner and how they can get professional help.
10 Ways to Help Your Partner Dealing with Depression
Depression can be an exhausting and sometimes confusing illness. Someone with depression may not even realize they’re unwell or, if they do, they may choose to suffer in silence rather than ask for help due to internalized stigma.
But as their partner, you have the power to motivate them simply through words and actions.
To help you get started, here are a few ways you can show your support:
1. Let your partner know you’re always there for them.
People with depression often struggle with negative thoughts and believe they are worthless or unlovable due to supposed faults.
By vocalizing your commitment to them, you can help reaffirm their self-worth and remind them they are lovable, no matter what.
2. Educate yourself on their symptoms and triggers.
Depressive symptoms may be chronic or temporary, severe or mild. Some people have consistent mood levels, while others fall into depressive episodes due to triggers.
Though it’s impossible to fully comprehend someone’s mental health, by learning more about their illness and how it works, you can better understand their needs.
3. Come up with an action plan together for really bad days.
You and your partner can draft up an action plan. An action plan is essentially a strategy your partner can employ during a difficult depressive episode.
An action plan may be things they can do to pick up their mood, helplines they can call, or ways you can help out without being asked, such as cooking their favorite or completing a chore for them.
4. Plan fun and engaging activities you can do together.
According to research, physical activity can be effective in both preventing and managing symptoms of depression.
Encourage exercise by trying new and fun outdoor activities together, like bike riding or hiking. You can also help your partner get back into old hobbies by doing them outdoors. Even if it’s sedentary, fresh air and sunlight can help pick up their mood.
5. Don’t take it personally.
You can’t control your partner’s depression. On bad days, they may act distant or irritable. They may snap at you or withdraw from family members and friends.
It’s important to remember that it’s not you—it’s the depression, and it’s best not to take things too personally.
6. Have professional and medical resources readily available.
People who are mentally ill sometimes feel like they must “endure” their illness, even when it’s hard.
Reassure them that that’s never the case by suggesting support groups, prevention hotlines, and treatment options available to them. Mental health professionals like therapists and counselors can also provide resources for depression.
7. Don’t assume what your partner needs. Ask first.
Being a part of someone’s support system calls for compassion and empathy.
By asking questions like, “What do you need me to do?” or “How can I help you during an episode?” you’re respecting their agency and reminding them that you’re here to help.
8. Try to stick to healthy routines and diets (without forcing it upon them).
To effectively create healthy habits, researchers suggest sticking to simple actions you can do every day at scheduled times. Though this sounds easy, there may be days where your partner can’t get out of bed, much less follow a routine.
Promote wellness through gentle encouragement and positive affirmations. Never push your partner nor enable codependent behavior, as both can reinforce feelings of helplessness.
9. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too!
Just as your partner’s mental health is important, so is yours.
Practice self-care by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Remember to spend time apart by focusing on your own life and hobbies.
If you’re feeling burnt out or depressed yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
10. Encourage professional treatment, don’t force it on them
When it comes to getting professional help such as psychotherapy, your partner may be hesitant or scared. Never force the subject or make ultimatums. Instead, gently remind them that they have options, and you’d be happy to help them in whatever way they’re comfortable with.
What Not to Say to Your Partner Dealing with Depression
Like in any relationship, you may sometimes say the wrong thing. You may upset your partner without meaning to or offer empty platitudes and unsolicited advice when you shouldn’t.
Though you mean well, it’s important to think before you speak.
When discussing your partner’s mental health, here’s what you shouldn’t say:
“This is what your problem is.”
Don’t try to explain away their illness or identify how they are “failing.” Though it may sound like you’re offering worthwhile advice (and you might be), someone with depression won’t necessarily take it that way if it’s delivered too frankly.
“What’s the matter with you?”
Someone with depression may be sensitive to criticism or rejection, whether intended or not. When addressing their feelings or bringing up your concerns, avoid speaking in an accusatory and/or exasperated manner.
“Others have it way worse than you.”
Comparing your partner’s pain to others (including your own) is never helpful. It only serves to shame and devalue their personal experiences with depression.
“You’re so lucky. What do you have to be depressed about?”
Mental illness never requires justification. People can’t control how or why they develop depression any more than they can control the weather. Furthermore, it’s impossible to fully comprehend another person’s mental health, much less their life experiences.
“It’s all in your head. It’ll pass.”
Though depressive symptoms may change over time, it is no less real than a broken arm. Statements like these reaffirm the idea that depression isn’t a real disease that requires proper care and support.
“But you seem totally fine.”
Someone’s (perceived) physical well-being is not a reflection of their mental health. To add, people with depression tend to not only withdraw from friends and family members but may also hide their illness due to internalized shame or guilt.
“Just cheer up. It’ll get better.”
No matter how severe or mild your partner’s depression is, it cannot be wished away or fixed through sheer willpower. Though you may mean well, comments like these can come off as disheartening and dismissive of their health.
Know the Suicide Warning Signs
Depression can sometimes cause overwhelming, negative thoughts that distort perception and create feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Such thoughts may lead to suicidal ideation and, in severe cases, suicidal intent.
If you believe someone with depression may be suicidal, there are several warnings signs to look out for, including:
- Talking about suicide/glorifying death
- Social withdrawal
- Getting a means to attempt suicide (gun, pills, etc.)
- Risky or self-destructive behavior such as alcohol or drug abuse
- Saying goodbye
- Getting affairs in order
- Talks of being a burden or feeling trapped
- Giving away possessions
- Taking strange trips by themselves
If you believe someone is suicidal, do not leave them alone. Call 911 for immediate assistance or contact a helpline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.
You can also reach out to other crisis resources listed here.
There is Hope with Emote Online Therapy
Depression can affect many aspects of our lives, including our relationship with our significant other or those closest to us.
It may create unforeseen challenges or lead to misunderstandings that make it hard for both people to cope. However, with professional help, you and your partner can learn how to heal and possibly overcome depression—together.
With Emote, you’re not alone.
Discover effective coping strategies, couples exercises, and more by signing up today for only $35 during your first week. To learn more about your experience with Emote, check out our FAQ or reach out to us at [email protected]