Depression is rarely isolated to the sufferer. Their loved ones will often feel the ripples of their problems, especially those who share living arrangements. For some, this undoubtedly means extra responsibilities, like working longer hours, performing more household duties or being more emotionally available and forgiving. Others who might not need to change their level of involvement might feel like they should regardless, or feel guilty that they can’t do more.
Further, while you might be able to take care of physical or environmental needs, there’s only so much you can do to alleviate their emotional or mental needs. While it’s always advisable to seek professional help and take prescribed medication, it may not prevent the inevitable downs of depression.
What might I be experiencing?
Helplessness, frustration, and guilt
It’s extremely difficult to watch someone you love suffering, and when there doesn’t seem to be a solution or a way to ‘fix’ the problem, you’re likely to feel helpless and frustrated. This can be compounded by a sense of guilt, as if you’ve failed your duty of care or just aren’t good enough to help your loved one pull through.
Unfortunately, some feelings are beyond your control, and you may begin to resent your partners mood and lifestyle change that their condition has put on you.
Depression can cause people to withdraw physically and emotionally, meaning limited intimacy (both platonic and sexual) and a general sense that the person ‘isn’t there’. In some cases, the loved one may attempt to ‘push away’, creating a separation between you.
Depending on the severity of the depression or the mood of your loved one, they might not be able to help you with problems that have arisen in your own life. This can lead to feeling as though you’re not as valued in the relationship, especially if you’ve dedicated time, love and patience to helping them.
What steps can I take to help?
Look after yourself first
If a weak swimmer is trying to save someone from drowning, chances are slim that they’ll both make it safely back to shore.
Your first task as a carer is to ensure you’re taking care of yourself. This means
- Being kind to yourself
- Taking time and space as you see fit
- Accepting you can’t be a superhero or the miracle worker that chases all the bad things away
- Understanding that you have limits, just like everyone else
Seek professional help
Getting advice and guidance from mental health experts can give you direction and actionable plans to work on. Going to these appointments together can help you bond, as well as cement the idea that you’re working on it together to see positive results. A professional might also be able to give you views and advice that neither party is able to see due to their closeness to the issue.
Again, this is part and parcel of taking care of yourself. There will be extra stresses and responsibilities, and having someone to talk to, as well as get advice from, will enable you to help your loved one more effectively and without causing yourself any extra, unnecessary pressure.
Make action plans
When you’re both on an even-keel, you should sit down and talk about steps you can both take to help one another when the depression gets particularly bad. This might be rules to follow, or boundary setting, or anything else that might help alleviate the more stressful times. It’s important that these action plans aren’t completely one-sided, however, as you both have to feel as though you’re wishes are being respected and that you’re not being dictated to by your loved one.
The benefits of physical activity on mental health are widely published, so it follows that exercising together will have some positive effects. It will give you a chance to spend quality time with your loved one, give you the chance to encourage and compliment them, as well as set achievable goals that you can work towards as a team.
Don’t take it personally
It might seem impossible, but you have to keep in mind that your partners’ emotions aren’t because of you, even if you end up as the outlet for their frustrations. As hard as it will be to remain logical and detached from negativity, it will give you some objectivity and aid your patience while you’re supporting them.
Build a support network
As lovely as the idea is, you can’t be everything to your loved one. Their friends and family might hold a place or have a way about them you can’t replicate when they’re in need. This will help lessen the load and spread the responsibility, allowing you to recover and get your strength back.
Sources and Resources
If you need support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp or call the Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 224 636 or visit www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/contact-us