What to Do When You Love Someone with Depression

a lonely young man thinking about a depressed loved-one

If your loved one is facing depression, it can be a difficult and uphill battle for everyone involved. Often, you’ll have to carefully manage energy and priorities, build a schedule and responsibilities that work for everyone involved, and work to ensure that everyone has the boundaries, communication, and support they need to make it through. That means not just your loved one with depression but also you – because it’s easy to over-invest in someone who’s struggling and to burn yourself out.

That often means that living with someone with depression involves communication, finding middle ground, and setting boundaries for everyone involved. That can be a significant amount of work, especially at first while you get used to new dynamics, to making room for mental health problems (for others and for yourself) and for learning about those problems. The following guide should help you to get started.

Learn About Depression

It’s always a good idea to learn more about mental health and depression specifically. Why? It will help you to understand why your loved one acts the way they do, what might be going on when things go wrong, and what good habits, routines, and boundaries might be. For example, the common social stigma around depression means many of us have fairly negative associations with depression. Many of us might also associate depression with just feeling down or sad – when in reality it’s a range of negative emotions like numbness, fatigue, sleeplessness, hypersomnia, stress, anxiety, etc.

The symptoms you associate with depression might also impact how you react when your loved one does things that you might react to as though they are laziness or unwillingness to help. Knowing depression causes mood swings can help you to better understand if someone is acting badly – it doesn’t excuse that or absolve them or responsibility, but it can help you to understand. Most importantly, understanding the symptoms of depression and how they work can help you to better understand how your loved one is actually doing.

Talk and Offer Support

There’s a significant amount of social stigma involved in having depression. In fact, that’s so much true that both men and women will try to hide signs of depression rather than reaching out and getting help. While stigma impacts men and women very differently, everyone needs to be listened to, heard, and understood. Taking time out to listen to your loved one, to validate their problems, and to offer support can be incredibly meaningful and valuable to them. In addition, it can give you direct insight into how your loved one is actually doing, how you can meet each other’s needs, and how you can take steps to compromise on issues to offer acceptance without compromising your own mental health.

Of course, it’s not enough to just listen. You have to do so in a nonjudgmental way. If you bring judgement to a conversation, you’re probably not going to have very many follow-up discussions. It’s important to assess where you might think your loved one isn’t doing good enough, to learn about those issues, and to communicate why you’re hurt or upset behind those emotions. E.g., a feeling that your loved one isn’t trying hard enough might be fear you’re not getting them back, it might be being overwhelmed, etc.

two people dealing with their problem by setting boundaries

Set Boundaries

It’s easy to try to take over everything and give your loved one the space to get better. It’s also easy to slowly end up taking on all of the chores in the house while also continuing your own work and responsibilities. Eventually, you might find yourself taking care of the house, your job, and your loved one – with no time for yourself or for relaxation. That’s an easy way to start having anxiety, depression, and burnout problems yourself. Setting boundaries means recognizing your own limits. It means asking your loved one to pull as much weight as they can. It also means stepping out and letting things slide when you can’t keep up with them.

You won’t always be able to avoid taking on extra work. However, you shouldn’t have it 100% of the time. You shouldn’t always have to deal with your loved one having a depressive episode – but being available to offer care for them when you can is also important. Good boundaries mean understanding your limits and respecting your own health and mental health first.

Invest in Treatment

Mental health treatment is important, not just for people with depression but also for the people around them. If your loved one hasn’t been to therapy or treatment, working towards that goal is important. Your loved one should understand that help is available, that you’re willing to go with, that you’re willing to be supportive while they go, and that you want to get help to. In addition, you should be open to both getting treatment yourself and to going to motivational and family therapy with your loved one.

It’s important to keep in mind that living with someone with depression can be dangerous for your own as well. You might struggle with energy and time investment, you might struggle with dealing with mood swings and low energy people, you might experience trauma. If you’re struggling, it’s just important for you to get help as it is for your loved one.

Treatment can also take many forms. For example, your loved one might benefit from an intensive residential treatment program. They might also benefit from long-term weekly sessions with a therapist, with medication, or with a combination of all three. Whichever the case, the goal is almost always to help treat symptoms of depression, to assess underlying problems and mitigate them (with medication, therapy, good habits, etc.) and to work to improve quality of life.

Living with depression isn’t easy. It’s also not easy to live with someone struggling with depression. That’s because watching people struggle with depression is difficult. It’s also because it means stepping up and taking on more responsibilities, both in the home and for your loved one. People with depression need more emotional support, more care, and more help with chores and responsibilities than someone without. You can work to get them and yourself into therapy and treatment, however, there may not be a resolution, many people struggle with chronic depression. The most you can do is work to set healthy boundaries, understand your loved one, and get help when you need it.

Good luck with your loved one and getting treatment.

If you or you loved one need help with mental health treatment, drug rehab, or alcohol rehab Compassion Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us to ask about our mental health programs and how we can support your specific requirements as you move into treatment.

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