I’ve recently been offering my services to a group called Help a Reporter Out (HARO). This helps promote both ShrinkTalk and my book, as well as scratch the surface of the iceberg that is my unquenchable thirst for attention. Speaking of, look for me in the June issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine!
Today there was a very interesting question posted by HARO about tips for helping a spouse or partner who suffers from depression; specifically, what are 3 or 4 useful tips to help deal with this problem? Only mental health experts who specialize in love and relationships were requested. Now you know me, and love is what I hold most dearly, so I felt simply compelled to answer the query. I’m not sure if they’ll use my response, but it is posted below.
Tips for Helping a Spouse or Partner who Suffers from Depression
– Empathy, not pity: As we’ve learned, there is an important difference between getting into one’s shoes and simply feeling sorry for someone. Actively listen to your partner during periods of depression, encourage him to speak more, try to share his perspective. In short, talk less and open your ears. This will help him to feel understood, a colossal component in the talk therapy for depression.
– Behavioral activation: Stagnation and depression are bedfellows, each giving rise and strength to the other. As challenging as it is for depressed people to get active, this is one of the best cures. Gently push your partner to engage in what brings her pleasure. This need not be complex or grand-scale like a vacation or significant purchase; simple, shared activities are fine.
– Abandon the “Power of Positive Thinking”: People with depression often have little energy, and being beaten over the head with “happy thoughts” can often be enough to make a person feel even more down (e.g., what’s wrong with me that I can’t think like you? I must be worthless?) You need not adopt his gloomy mind set, but do not dismiss what your partner is saying with clichés and platitudes about how great life is. It won’t work. Instead, use “balanced” thinking that acknowledges the situation yet promotes the idea that things can change. For example, skip “Everything is fine, stop being so down” and go with “yes, things are very hard for you right now, but maybe if we take certain steps, things will improve.”
– Encourage, or perhaps even demand, your partner seek help: No one is at fault for being depressed. It is an illness, not a weakness. That said, when you get hypertension you either change your diet or go on medicine (or both) and when you sprain your ankle you wrap it up. Treat the problem if you want it to get better. Tell your partner that although she isn’t responsible for feeling the way she does, she does has a responsibility – to herself, to you and to the relationship – to directly address the condition.