by Andrea M. Darcy
You love your partner. But you are worried because they are struggling. How can you help a partner with depression?
What if they suffer anxiety, or had a difficult childhood?
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How to Help a Partner With Depression or Mental Health Issues
The first golden rule here is one that is very hard for most partners to hear. It is hard to see someone we love suffer. We want to help. But let’s get this on the table loud and clear first.
You cannot make your partner better. You can not make them go to therapy, you can not make them change, you cannot fix them. The only person who has the power to do any of that is them. Yes, you can do your best to support them and love them, but accept that this is up to them.
That said, there is a lot you CAN do. That really matters and really helps. So let’s look at what those things are.
1. Constantly remind him or her you are there for them.
When someone is depressed, anxious, or suffering from long-term PTSD from childhood trauma?
They tend to act as if they don’t need other people. They tell you to leave them alone. They let you get close, then push you away. Or even turn things around and blame you for upsetting them.
Depression, anxiety and trauma all have one very big side effect — shame.
Shame makes people push others away or be confusing and even mean, when deep down they are desperate for support. Not to be smothered, or be told what to do, but just to know they are not alone. So keep letting them know.
2. Don’t push your partner to talk.
Yes, it’s true that talking about things can help. But when we are ready to talk. So trying to manipulate your partner into sharing when they are not ready or don’t want to will make them less likely to turn to you.
3. But do listen if they do talk. PROPER listening.
This means you don’t interrupt to share your similar experiences, you don’t give advice, you don’t try to act wise.
Good listening means you simply stay quiet, allow pauses, and reflect back what they said to be sure you heard them right. And you ask good questions if it seems appropriate.
It’s not that you can’t share your experiences. In fact in a healthy relationship there has to be equal sharing. It’s just that you need to allow space between their sharing before you do, or even save your story for another time. Otherwise he or she will feel unheard.
4. Stop the ‘diagnosing’.
You want to help. And you want to understand. And yes, you might have found really good information on the internet and be 99.9% sure your partner has some disorder or other.
But if he or she actually wanted that information they would have looked for it themselves. And labelling someone makes them feel judged and cornered.
You are not a psychologist and psychiatrist, and a lot of the ‘information’ on the internet is faulty.
There is a good chance you are entirely wrong and your partner is going through something else entirely.
If you really think your partner has a disorder, at the very most ask if they’ve heard of it and suggest they might find it interesting. Or mention an article, but don’t tell them they have to read it. If they want to know more they can and will do their own research.
5. But do the research for you.
It’s not that doing research is bad. In fact it’s necessary.
Depression and anxiety make people act in strange ways. And if you don’t do research you might not realise when it’s the anxiety and depression talking, and not your partner.
The more you make an effort to understand, the better, both for your wellbeing and theirs.
6. Keep up your own life.
It’s that old airplane mask scenario. We really can’t help others if we don’t help ourselves first. Self care is crucial.
Giving up all your own hobbies and your social life to help a partner with depression will just leave you on empty. Instead of being able to support your partner, you are more likely to find yourself picking fights, or feeling trapped. You might even start to suffocate your partner until they leave.
7. Absolutely do suggest to them they seek help, but in the right way.
Again, you are not a psychologist or psychiatrist. And this means it’s not your job to totally take care of someone who has mental health problems.Trying to do so will not only kill your relationship, it will leave you with more of your own problems.
That said, telling someone in the heat of an argument ‘you need help’ is a very bad idea. It is insensitive and can push someone towards feeling completely rejected. They might even attempt suicide if they are in a depressed state.
It’s very important to let someone know they could use support in a calm moment. Learn exactly what to do and not do in our article, “How to Tell a Loved One They Need Counselling“.
The best thing to do? Seek help yourself.
If you are in a relationship with someone who has not sought support but chooses to suffer through anxiety, depression, and the effects of childhood trauma? If, actually, this is not the first time this has happened to you? But you often end up in relationships with people who are ‘intense’ and exciting or ‘need’ you?
Then the truth is there is a very high chance you have your own matching psychological issues. This often includes codependency, coupled with low self-esteem. You might even have your own childhood trauma to process.
Seeking help yourself not only helps you divide your own issues from your partner’s, it also shows them how beneficial therapy is. And one of the best ways to help others is to lead by example.
Harley Therapy manages some of London’s top relationship counsellors and talk therapists in central locations. Not in London or the UK? Our sister site harleytherapy.com means you can book affordable therapy from any location.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and personal development teacher with training in person-centred counselling and coaching, as well a popular psychology writer who often writes about relationships. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy