Coping with a partner’s (undiagnosed) depression

Guest post by Esmerelda
By: Kevin DooleyCC BY 2.0
My partner of two years has been struggling with patterns of feeling moody, withdrawn, and overwhelmed. We both have high-stress jobs and live thousands of kilometres from our (very different) home countries. But his bad feelings endure even when he is on holiday or goes back to Spain to visit family. He’s recently admitted that he thinks he might be depressed, but he is still reluctant to see a doctor or therapist to figure things out.

I’m trying to help him and encourage him to see someone, but his moods and attitudes are having a negative effect on my life, too. He can become so withdrawn that we barely speak for days, he loses his temper far more easily than usual, and his sex drive can be non-existent. All of these things make me feel so upset, and I’m working on not taking them personally, but it can be very difficult. I want to be there for my partner, whom I care about deeply, but at what point do I need to step back and look out for my own emotional well-being?

I know the first step is getting him to figure out where his depressed feelings are coming from and how he might go about coping with them, but then what? I’d appreciate any advice from those who have helped a friend partner with depression or had to encourage someone to seek therapy.

Comments on Coping with a partner’s (undiagnosed) depression

  1. I had a difficult time coming to terms that I needed professional help for depression years ago.

    I was recommended this book: Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy

    In it there is a quiz. That quiz seriously changed my life. I scored extremely high on the quiz and could not understand how anyone would not score so high. I had other people in my life take the quiz and when I saw that their resulting score was so low, I admitted that I couldn’t trust my perception of reality and that I needed help.

    I don’t know if this would help for your partner but being able to quantify what I was experiencing and being able to compare it to other “normal” reactions was the jump start I needed to take depression seriously.

    I have since completed extensive cognitive therapy to retrain my brain. I used medication for years but was able to go off it two years ago due to the hard work I did through therapy. Through it all it helped immensely that I had a partner I could trust and support me, and who’s perceptions I could trust when my brain was warping reality.

    • As a person with depression and anxiety, “Feeling Good…” was a horrible read. I really felt patronized and stupid. I do not recommend this book, especially if depression is stress/environment related.

    • I agree with Cass; I felt like Feeling Good was super condescending. I mentioned it to my therapist, who had recommended it, and she said that sometimes it strikes people that way. If you take a look at Feeling Good and don’t like it, I’d recommend Mind Over Mood, which was kind of more detached and struck me as less insulting.

      • I agree that Mind Over Mood is far superior for actual content. I should have specified more that what I found the most useful in Feeling Good was the quiz, which allowed me to understand that yes I did have a problem and most people don’t feel this way.

        I don’t recall Feeling Good being condescending but it was about 10 years ago so I’m certainly not going to disagree.

        I wonder if there is a place to find the quiz online since it’s obviously the only useful part of the book that I remember.

    • I just found the quiz on Amazon! You can view it because “Feeling Good…” has the “Look Inside” feature. The quiz begins on page 19.

      • Wow, thanks for mentioning this. I knew I was falling back into depression but didn’t realize how bad it was until I took this quiz. I would have guessed moderate, but my result was borderline severe/extreme. I’ve been putting off treatment for financial reasons, but it looks like I’d better get back into it sooner rather than later. Thanks!

        • Hey Jen, if your income is limited there are some options depending on what type of treatment works for you: 1) get free samples from a doctor, 2) ask for a generic, 3) many drug companies like Eli Lily offer patient assistance programs where you can get free or discounted drugs if you have a limited income. You have to poke around their website and ask a doctor to complete part of the form. But this helped me out when I was just out of graduate school. 4) There are a lot of counseling centers that offer counseling on a sliding scale based on your income. Again, it may take some research, but there are often options. Sometimes universities and employers offer free resources for people affiliated with them as wel. 5) Cognitive behavioral therapy has a different focus than regular talk therapy but one aspect of it is that it typically has a defined time period, say 6 weeks, where talk therapy can sometimes be more open ended. So CBT could be a way to limit the number of sessions you do if CBT appeals to you and if counseling is an option that you would like to explore. 6) I would definitely encourage you based on what you said to seek treatment however in my personal experience I have found that I have experienced less symptoms the more that I exercise. It sort of depends on what is causing the problem, but exercise and Omega 3 supplements have helped me in some cases. 7) A depression support groups could be cheap or free – personally that option doesn’t work for me but I think it would be better than nothing. I remember someone recommending them to me as a student when I ran out of sessions that my university offered to me for free.

          Here’s some info on Omega 3 and Major Depression from the National Institutes of Health:

          It’s not something that would likely stop a depressive episode but it might help on top of medication or other treatment and you can get them for not very much money.

          • I did take a generic when I was on meds before and it cost me nothing or next-to-nothing with my insurance.

            My previous therapist was covered by insurance, and she even offered me two sessions for one copay when my finances took a turn. But even with that it’s still $100 a month, which isn’t really feasible right now. With her it’s just talk therapy though, and I feel like at this point that’s not going to be very helpful. I will look into CBT. If it’s a defined time period I could put it on my credit card (still scary, though).

            I know I really should exercise but just haven’t done it. There are much easier things I just can’t muster the energy or motivation to do, and exercise (which I hate) doesn’t seem reachable right now. I will try the Omega-3 supplements, though. Maybe that will give me the boost I need.

            Thanks so much for your suggestions, Sarah!

        • Sure no problem! Just to give you a point of reference, my talk therapy is about $25 a session in Chicago, so there might be other options out there that are more affordable (mine is only spottily covered by insurance but my therapist has a sliding scale policy). In Chicago there are places like Chicago Community Counseling Centers of Chicago that do sliding scale fees based on your income. I’m not sure what might be available in your area, but maybe something would come up if you do a search for your city or area and sliding scale counseling?

          I hear you about starting exercise when you’re already depressed. Maybe when you’ve gotten some treatment it will help you manage your symptoms in the longer term. Good luck and sending hugs and good universe thoughts your way.

  2. It sounds to me like you’re struggling to tell the difference between “problems affecting me” and “my problems”.

    The website is amazing for helping you draw boundaries for stuff like this and giving you scripts to have unpleasant conversations. I really recommend it.

    • I can definitely see how my original question comes off like I want to be able to fix his life for him– I think when I was writing in, I was so frustrated with the fact that he seemed resigned to his feelings (or lack thereof) and the toll it was taking on our relationship and I was just in fix-everything-right-now mode.

      Since then, I’ve thought a lot about my role in the situation and decided that I can be encouraging and supportive of him, but that’s the extent of it. It’s meant that I’ve emotionally stepped back from our relationship a bit, but ultimately this is his life and his problems, not mine.

      • While I agree with taking an emotional step back, I do think that you could be instrumental in having him get help. When you’re in the throws of depression it feels like you’ve always been there AND that it’s part of your personality. My husband (then boyfriend) was instrumental in me getting to a doctor and on antidepressants, we looked at it as an experiment. He said, “just try them for awhile and see if there’s a difference, if not, then there’s nothing to lose.” I had suffered for 10 years and it just got to be the ‘normal’ that I knew, and it wasn’t until I was at the other side that I could see, ‘whoa, that was depression.’

        • I couldnt say THIS any louder! I had depression from my early teens to my mid 20s and my partner was instrumental in helping me realise that
          1) yes this is depression, not just normal life
          2) you deserve to feel better
          3) admitting it and taking steps to fix it does not make you weak, it makes you strong!

          I have also been on the other side of the situation and the empathy I felt, knowing how my partner felt but not being able to communicate that it was ok for them to seek help, was difficult to deal with too. In the end my partners support and time were what helped me through. Eventually I got medical help and therapy and 5 years later I deal with things much better (most of the time) and our relationship is stronger than ever. Unfortunatly theres no hard and fast rule for helping someone out of depression (just like theres no book we could all agree on, personally I have found Mood Mapping helpful but each to their own). I would say, take care of your mental health, offer the support you can and give it time.

      • Both my partner and I struggle with depression. One of the big keys has been supporting each other through it, but part of it was also learning how to define “support”.

        Somehow, I got it into my head that “support” really only meant not saying anything when he made poor decisions, allowing him to wallow in the depression, and in general, not contradicting what he wanted to do. I now understand that support means helping him find the right choices when he does not want to or cannot think clearly. This means that if he says “I’m not up to calling the doctor. It takes too much energy,” that I call him on his poor decision, and encourage him to call the doctor. It also means that when he doesn’t want to go to work because he’d rather stay home and play video games and be depressed, I support him with a kick in the pants, because he has outright admitted (on his better days) that he needs that kind of a jumpstart from me sometimes.

        I don’t know how applicable this is to your situation, but I wanted to share that sometimes, being supportive looks like being a jerk, and that depression makes it hard to make good life choices, even when you know that you need to.

      • I also have a partner who has been dealing with depression for years. It took a long time for him to talk to me about it moreover talk to anyone else. (Even though our current primary care specifically has behavioral health) I’ve been encouraging him to continue to talk about it and do those things he enjoys which can also relieve stress: physical activity, meditating, deep breathing. There is also an online website by the VA which is also pretty good for those who don’t want to or can’t afford to get a counselor. I completely understand having to fight the desire to make it all better, because we can’t. What was more frustrating for me is his refusal to get help, but as time passes progress has been made. It just takes a while sometimes. Continue to love him, but remember to keep yourself emotionally healthy too.

  3. There is such a stigma around mental illness…like they are your fault or it just means you are weak. It is difficult to get around these thoughts in your own head. (ex. What’s wrong with me?) AND it is difficult to deal with these thoughts coming from your friends and family. (ex. What’s wrong with you? You used to be fun, but you’ve changed.)

    These things are NOT true.

    It might help to view it as you would any other sickness, keeping in mind that while pills help, they don’t work alone- they must be used in conjunction with therapy. It sounds like you already recognize that there is a problem and are able to separate his moods from his personality. This is good, but depressed people can be VERY selfish, if unintentionally. I am saying this because I was there once. And my partner was a rockstar about it. But I had to make a serious, conscious effort to step outside of myself and pay attention to his needs.

    Encourage your partner to get some therapy. If this doesn’t fly, at the very least, see if you can get him to exercise and make an effort to do things that he used to enjoy. He won’t want to, but he could feel better afterwards. Your support matters, but it can only go so far. There has to be a cutting off point somewhere, though, or both of you could end up depressed. (This is advice from the opposite of your position. I just wanted to comment that it CAN get better with work.)

    • Stigma around mental health issues is especially prevalent in some European countries, where activities (associated with depression) like drinking heavily and staying out late and not sleeping are normalized. Going to seek mental health treatment is not talked about, and not normalized.
      I’ve never been to Spain, so I can’t speak to that country specifically, but other places in Europe are still very conservative and consider mental health a personal struggle, not something to read out to others, or even doctors to help.

    • Thanks for this. “Very selfish” does describe him in a nutshell! He’s been exercising a lot lately and has quit smoking, and we’ve both noticed a difference in our relationship. I’m glad you have a rockstar partner and I hope my boyfriend can say the same about me. I’ve definitely thought a lot about that cutting off point, and I think I’m in a healthy place about it.

      • So, this situation only works for a specific type of couples in a certain stage of their relationship, but I thought I would throw it out there. Don’t feel like you have to do this.
        When I was at the bottom, I just wished my boyfriend would break up with me. I couldn’t feel love the way I used to. I didn’t want to drag him down, and I didn’t feel like I deserved him. But when he made it clear to me that he was not-going-to-leave-me-not-ever-ever-ever, I kind of had a turning point. It was like, crap, I’ve gotta get better for HIM. And then that turned into getting better for US. And then that turned into getting better for ME. Which looking back on that it KILLS the feminist/independent person in me, but at the time it was how I found motivation. I guess that falls into the “they need to want to change” category, but with slightly different motivations.

        That being said, it is what worked for me. I am eternally grateful to him, but it is something that I never expected of him. And not everyone can make that same commitment at the right time. (I don’t think it would have worked for us at 2 years, but we were going on 5 at that point.)

  4. I can speak as the person with undiagnosed depression for a long time, and it really went south post-partum. I knew I had some issues, but I thought I could work through it on my own. What made the difference (and led to me seeking help) was my husband gently and lovingly describe the effects of my depression in our relationship and on him. I wasn’t necessarily willing to get help just for me, but when I realized what my deep depression was doing to my husband and young son, it was the motivation I needed to get help.

  5. It sounds like this is a time you need to look after yourself, even though it may feel like all you need to do is look after him.

    I’d strongly suggest looking into a programme like Al-Anon, which though technically is for people affected by someone else’s drinking, is essentially support for people affected by someone else’s mental illness, of any sort (in my opinion). If you’re in a country that doesn’t have Al-Anon, there are some great online groups.

    Some other helpful resources might be books on co-dependency and self-care. I’d recommend anything by Melody Beattie, and also Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend (from a Christian worldview, but some great principles even if you don’t have Christian faith).

    If you were to focus on one thing, or need somewhere to begin, I’d suggest the skill of detachment. It’s really about letting go, recognising we have no power over others (we can’t make them better) and taking back any control we might have given them over us. There’s an amazing article on it here:

    And finally, there’s no shame in seeking counselling for yourself, to deal with your own issues. And if this all sounds a bit selfish, remind yourself that your only chance of being any help at all to the man you love lies in being emotionally whole, stable and independent in yourself.

    You can do this. Hugs xxx

    • “remind yourself that your only chance of being any help at all to the man you love lies in being emotionally whole, stable and independent in yourself.”

      I love this. New life mantra. Thanks.

  6. So, my husband and I have been together 5 years, married for 3. We’ve only spent approx the last 8 months or so where he hasn’t been in a state of depression. He’s been up and down in that span of time, sometimes really down and suicidal, other times “functioning” but still in a funk, yet other times exactly as you described — we had periods where either we didn’t speak because he wasn’t in a talking mood, or I just plain didn’t see him awake because he was sleeping when I wasn’t and vise versa.

    Coincidentally, another friend posted a link to this earlier today:


    I’ve never suffered from depression, nor has anyone I’ve been close to. Luckily, I have a bit of a background in conflict resolution techniques, which helped me a little, but not enough (and not really the right kind of training). I totally made the mistake of suggesting things like, “Maybe if you did [blank] you’d feel better?”, and my family was notorious for saying things like, “Why can’t he just snap out of it?” “He just needs a job!”

    None of those things help.

    I knew I couldn’t help him, and that he had to come to the conclusion to seek help on his own. I would often print out webpages with info about support, or therapy places to contact, etc. and left them on his desk chair, so he didn’t have to make the effort to do the research, but could act on reaching out when he was ready.

    I had a hard time coping (which could be a whole post in itself), I used to take it personally too, until he tried explaining what he was feeling (see link above). Then eventually I realized — I couldn’t keep my life on hold to wait for him to catch up. So I just started doing things without him. And in short time, he decided to go see the doctor because he was missing out. And once he went to the doctor, things started getting better. But at the end of the day, he had to do it on his own… and comments like the ones described in the post I linked never helped.

    • i don’t really have any advice, except to second that *everyone* should read that post from hyperbole and a half. it is such a strikingly accurate portrayal of depression that reading it absolutely panicked me (it was like a flashback or something).

      i highly recommend “part one” as well, because they describe two completely different sorts (or phases) of depression.

      • I second reading that link! Part 1 & 2 are very well written and can describe, as close as I’ve ever read, what being ‘inside’ depression feels like.

        What was my huge motivator to getting help was seeing how it was affecting my relationship. From feedback from my husband, I was able to see how I was negatively affecting our marriage by the way I was feeling. Perhaps a brutally honest yet trying-to-understand discussion would be beneficial?

        Also yes to what Lenna said. Try to keep yourself mentally healthy in the meantime. I can imagine being around someone so down all the time is mentally/spiritually draining.

        • Yes, that seemed to help my husband too. I sat down with him and said, basically, “Look, this is how it’s affecting me…[explanations]… So I’m going to do things without you and I hope that’s okay and doesn’t make you worse, but I just can’t live like this anymore.” And he responded with, “I’m sorry and I don’t want you to take it personally and I don’t want you to hold back. But I can’t explain what I’m going through. It feels kind of like [all of those posts]. I want to get better but I don’t know how.”

          It also took us a good 3 years to get to that point, so, be patient, and I agree with the suggestions to talk to others/a therapists if you need it! But…others who you think will understand, because talking to people who don’t understand make it worse (I’m currently not speaking to a friend who insisted I was in an abusive relationship and required an intervention of getting my shit out of the apartment and him evicted. Not at all the situation, and not at all helpful!!)

          • My partner knows the effect it has on me, and has had on previous partners. I think his problem is that he doesn’t think there’s any “getting better” to do. He thinks it’s the way he is and he can’t change it. So I’m going to delicately broach the subject now that I’ve heard from all of you lovely people; I think my next step is to continue with self-care and also to suggest to him that this ISN’T who he is and he can start to make things better for himself if he chooses to. Thanks for your advice! Glad things are better with your husband.

      • Just read Hyperbole and a a Half, I agree it was like a flashback it is so accurate.

        Especially the part where the person says that they were completely unprepared for having to comfort someone when they revealed that they were suicidal to them.

    • If you’re having a hard time coping, you, yourself, could see a social worker or psychiatrist, who may give you some help in the area of coping.
      This may have a bonus effect of your partner seeing you having good results with a therapist, and he may be encouraged to go seek help, also.

    • It’s a relief to hear that other people have successfully gotten through something like this. Your way of coping with your husband’s depression is something I think I’ve been doing for the past few weeks and will be able to keep doing. Thanks!

      • “My partner knows the effect it has on me, and has had on previous partners. I think his problem is that he doesn’t think there’s any “getting better” to do. He thinks it’s the way he is and he can’t change it. So I’m going to delicately broach the subject now that I’ve heard from all of you lovely people; I think my next step is to continue with self-care and also to suggest to him that this ISN’T who he is and he can start to make things better for himself if he chooses to. Thanks for your advice! Glad things are better with your husband.”

        Please read more information written by people who actually have depression and maybe try talking to a professional who can explain living with depression and supporting a partner with depression to you.

        I have struggled with clinical depression since childhood and am currently in treatment.

        If somebody in my life said something like what you wrote above to me, especially during an especially bad period, that would have pushed me over the edge.

        I don’t think you have a realistic or clear idea of what it is like to be in that state, and it may hurt both of you if you assume that you do.

    • My husband and I were just discussing this post before he went to work this morning – he agreed that it was amazingly accurate. He’s speaking now as someone who has been medicated for about a year now, and is doing famously… but oh, man, were things ever bad before that.

  7. I would also love to know how to appropriately encourage a significant other to try psychiatry/therapy/counseling/etc. My boyfriend has what is almost clearly an anxiety disorder and he’s told me that in the past year it’s really started up badly, and it really weighs on him. Yet whenever I suggest psychiatry or therapy he writes it off as a way to trick people out of money. He’s told me that he would try one visit for my sake, but he’s so reluctant and not into the idea, and obviously I don’t want to force him into it–it’s really a step you have to take for yourself. I hate watching him battle this when there’s a viable option for help right in front of him, which he refuses to take.

    • For anxiety issues, just going the first time is the biggest step. The next biggest step is getting them to go a second time.
      Try to keep positive, and avoid nagging which may give you the opposite of the desired effect.

    • I’m in a similar position with my spouse. They’ve been suffering what appears (to my admittedly untrained eye) to be bouts of depression and/or near-paralyzing anxiety – not always at the same time – but brush off any suggestion of counseling or other therapy as a waste of time and money. They insist that there’s nothing any therapist could ever say to help, and don’t consider medication an option.

      They’re clearly suffering, which hurts to watch and hurts even more to realize I can’t or don’t know how to help.

      I’m been considering leading by example – as Loubelou mentioned above, these things wear on you, and it’s possible my spouse isn’t the only one in the house who might benefit from some counseling.

      I’d love to hear from others with experience with loved ones who might need, but refuse to seek/accept, professional help.

    • I had been living with my SO for 3 years before he got a proper diagnosis. For the past year he had been having bouts of severe depression and anger. I was anxious every morning before he woke up, wondering if he was going to have a ‘bad’ day. Walking on eggshells is an understatement. He had been taking meds for ADHD for a while, but no therapy. I would beg him to see someone and he knew he needed help. But damnit he’s stubborn.
      It got to a breaking point: I told him either he sees a therapist or we are done, because our relationship was dying anyways. It was totally against my instinct, but sometimes you need to take control and stop letting the situation control you. This finally motivated him to get help and he was diagnosed as bipolar. And it was also around this time he decided to move out. For him, working through his issues and existing in a partnership was too much to handle.
      The good news is after a few weeks we are seeing each other again. He is on proper medication and let me tell you, it’s better than it has been in years. And when we do see each other it’s fun. FUN!!
      I had to come to terms with the fact that *relationships aren’t linear*. The dating-living together-marry formula is just a silly social construct. People change, love needs space (and time) to evolve. As partners of people with mental illness, we need to address our own well being FIRST, because if we aren’t ‘ok’ then healthy relationships cannot thrive. Don’t feel guilty for putting your needs ahead of anyone else’s, you will actually be doing everyone a disservice if you don’t.

      • This is great advice, although I would be wary of ultimatums (ultimati?!) unless you really are sure you’re willing to fulfil the terms yourself if he doesn’t comply, and you’re doing it from a place of trying to protect yourself rather than control him. In my experience, threatening someone who’s mentally ill doesn’t always get the results I want, and I end up getting hurt because I’m not able to follow through, and find myself mired in more complication and heartbreak.
        But when I find ultimatums to myself, and tell him, e.g. ‘if you don’t get treatment, I’m going to leave’ with absolute conviction that I’ll follow through, because it’s best for ME, that’s when I feel in control of myself and, strangely, my relationship sometimes improves, because I’m not making demands to a sick person and he knows I’m not trying to control him.
        However, the only way ultimatums work, in my opinion, is if we’re really willing to follow through on what we say we’ll do, we do this consistently, and we’re doing it from a place of self-care rather than caretaking, with no attempt to control our loved ones.

        • Yes. The ultimatum has to not be about what they need to do, but about what you need to do. “If this doesn’t get better I need to make myself leave” rather than “I will leave as a punishment for you.”

    • I battled anxiety for years. I still have to fight when certain triggers show up. I visited a very nice therapist who was only able to tell me what I already understood about the battle with anxiety.
      Surprisingly, A&E’s Obsessed tv show gave me some great tools!!! Anxiety can behave just like OCD, because it’s about obsessive thoughts.

      There are amazing anxiety resources that can do a world of good, encourage him to look those up if he doesn’t want therapy.

  8. My husband is often ‘moody’ this way and has seen psychiatrists off an on, but rarely sticks with it, because he does not want to take medication.
    That being said, the times when he will not seek professional help, I do my best to encourage good behaviors (without making them seem like I’m “helping” his depression). Too much pressure to “get help” probably seems like nagging from you, and your partner may think you think they’re inadequate – this will lead to push-back, and may set you further back in helping your partner get the help he needs.

    Encourage good things like talking on the phone to friends and family, healthy diet, cutting out caffeine at night, proper sleep, and good exercise. Taking part in activities that get your partner “out of his head” are good, too (but usually don’t have a lasting effect). So activities like going to church, going out to a movie theater or play, volunteering for some meaningful cause
    Best of luck, I empathize with your issue!

  9. Oh Lordy, is this a can of worms. There are many, many things I want to say (hell I could write a book), but the most difficult and also the most important boils down to this:

    You cannot save him. You can be there, you can be supportive, you can suggest he get help (try to not nag or push, it makes it worse and may make him feel like more of a failure), you can let him know that when he wants help, when he’s ready to be helped, you will help him. But you cannot save him, nor is it your responsibility to. Down that road madness lies, believe me, I’ve been there.

    Also, if you can, try to get him to go to couple’s therapy with you. Couple’s therapy may be less threatening to a defensive person than one-on-one therapy.

    • This definitely worked for my husband and I. Once we went to our first therapy session, the therapist said that he may have depression/anxiety issues and should get *back on* medication. He took it before, convinced himself that he was ok 2 months after starting his meds (“surprisingly” the amount of time that it takes for antidepressants to start working full-force in your system) and went off of them. Couples therapy opened the door for us, and he’s been consistently taking his meds for almost a year now, and they’re helping!! 🙂

  10. I used to hate when my mother would drag me to therapy. Most weren’t a good fit in a lot of ways. What changed my attitude about it was when I had the inspiration that I could direct the sessions. Since then, every time I meet a therapist for the first time I lay out for the therapist about what is bothering me and what I would like to do about it. I establish the boundaries I’m comfortable with (medication, topics, etc.) and ask them to respect that. Then I ask them about what they feel can be done. If there’s resistance or we’re at a disconnect I don’t see them again.

    Knowing that I had control and was taking an active role, as opposed to being scrutinized by a stranger, made it easier to seek help when I needed it. Perhaps letting your partner know this is a possibility (and I think makes a world of difference) will influence his feelings on the matter.

  11. The major issue I had with my own depression was coming to terms with it. I would have days where I would cry for no reason, lie around in bed all day refusing to talk to my partner, some days I would just get up and leave the house and walk for hours and hours for no particular reason and not tell anyone where I’ve gone, and other days I would pick a fight with my partner just to prove to him I was a horrible person and he should just leave me already. (Amazingly, he hasn’t, and he’s been really supportive the whole time)

    I knew I was depressed. I KNEW I was depressed. I still am depressed. But one of the scariest things is not admitting it to yourself, but admitting it to other people. Including your family and medical professionals. Because you’ve seen people react to this sort of thing before, saying “Oh, you’ll be fine, just look on the bright side!” and such condescending, clearly-not-understanding bull, you’re terrified those close to you will have the same reaction, especially doctors.

    I finally admitted it to my doctor, and the first thing she did was examine it from a medical perspective, and prescribe me some antidepressants. She wasn’t condescending or anything, and she made me feel like it was normal to feel this way. That I’m not the only one this has happened to.

    I’m sure it must be hard to see your loved one go through this, but you have to be supportive in a way that also protects yourself. Suggest gently that they go to the doctor. Talk them through why they’re feeling this way. See if there’s any triggers for their moods, or if they seem to be somewhat spontaneous. You can help them, but you need to make sure you’re not enabling them at the same time. It’s hard to find that fine line, but when they start to get help, it will make all the difference.

  12. Oh, boy. Okay. So I have been to the brink with depression. It’s awful, and my deepest darkest depressive episode really challenged my family and friends who were supporting me through it. My roommate even went to see a therapist because she was struggling so much to support me through my struggling.


    The bad news: One of the very symptoms of depression is the deep, committed belief that things will never be okay again. It’s a symptom only. That was the hardest thing for me to get past. Not only was everything horrible and I couldn’t find joy in things that previously made me happy (like, my new puppy, for crying out loud), but I was sure that I would always feel that way. No other illness works like this. Diabetes does not come part and parcel with a deep committed belief that your blood sugar levels will never again be stable. Pneumonia does not come with an unshakable certainty that you’ll never stop coughing.

    The other thing is that depression is a many-headed beast, and you’ve got to fight it with everything you’ve got, every tool at you disposal. It’s like that mythical creature, the hydra. You cut off one head, two more sprout up in its place. You go on anti-depressants; you no longer want to die but you can’t have an orgasm. Your heart stops pounding at the thought of throwing in a load of laundry (too many steps! Sorting, opening the washer lid, adding soap, turning the dial; this actually caused me to break down one terrible day) but you’ve got dry mouth like you can’t believe. You have to just keep going. The depressed person feels like they’re trudging through waist high mud. It sucks.

    So here’s what the letter writer can do, because believe me, when you feel helpless in the face of this disease, nothing helps you stay on the front lines of support like Doing Something.

    The first thing is to realize that your partner has got to fight depression with everything he can, including

    1.) Therapy- which, okay. Sometimes the first therapist you see isn’t the best one for you. A recent study found that the number one thing contributing to a patient’s progress in overcoming mental illness was the skill level of the therapist. Find the smartest, best therapist you can. Don’t pick one out of the phone book or off the internet randomly. See who your partner’s doctor recommends. The non-depressed person can help by vetting this person. What kind of therapy does he or she do? Cognitive behavioral? Psychoanalysis? Only psychiatrists and medical doctors can prescribe meds; if you speak to a psychologist or therapist with a social work background, you may need someone on your team to monitor prescriptions. It can take months to build that right team. That can be intimidating for the depressed person who can’t imagine surviving the next hour. The most important things is to start. Make an appointment. Go. Put one foot in front of the other. Don’t give up. Don’t stop going.

    2.) Medication. The most important thing to remember about medication is that you have to be patient. It can take weeks to build up to a therapeutic dose, and even then sometimes patients have to be on a therapeutic does for a few weeks to experience the full efficacy of the medication. Sometimes people need to try several anti-depressants before you get the right one or even combination of drugs. I know. I’m sorry. It sucks. The side effects can be daunting too- weight gain (Stopping the intrusive thoughts telling you you want to die? Good. Feeling ravenous enough to eat the house plants? Bad, but better than wanting to die.) Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!

    2a.) and don’t stop taking the meds when you start to feel better. Anti-depressants aren’t like other kinds of medicine. You get a headache. You take an aspirin. Your headache goes away and you don’t need another painkiller. Great! Not how anti-dressants roll, unfortunately. So many people start taking meds, start to feel better and think, “Hey! I’m better” and they spiral downwards again. Yes, the side effects suck and the stigma sucks and the co-pays and the insurance brouhaha over mail-order forms for long-term usage suck. You know what sucks worse? Finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and then backsliding into hell because you stopped your meds. Also, withdrawal from anti-depressants can be extremely painful. DO EVERYTHING YOUR DOCTOR SAYS. Forgetting even one of my pills makes me so dizzy that I might as well be spinning in an office chair while huffing furniture polish.

    3.) Good sleep hygiene. Too much or too little sleep can be extremely problematic for the depressed person. Naps are dangerous; so much of depression involves feeling “off,” like if you just lay down for a bit things might be better when you wake up, but then you can’t get out of bed. When I was depressed, I had to get on a schedule, and I needed help sticking to it.

    4.) Getting enough sunlight, or use a happy light if it’s winter in your hemisphere

    5.) Avoid depressants like alcohol, even temporarily, your brain chemistry needs all the help it can get. Plus, if you’re on psychotropic meds, they can quadruple the effect of alcohol. Gotta be so careful.

    6.) Exercise… which- ha ha ha- I couldn’t walk down the stairs; I was not gonna be hitting a treadmill, but even light stretching is helpful in getting the endorphins flowing.

    7.) Omega-3 fish oil supplements are supposed to be good for the depressed person’s brain. I know. I was all, “Vitamins, really? The world is dark and awful and you want me to take supplements?” BUT… You’ve got to do everything you can to beat it.

    8.) Supposedly, too much electromagnetism can cause depression. I know, sounds weird. But if you use an electric blanket, switching to a feather comforter can help.

    9.) Keep things light. Funny movies, humorous novels. Anything by Dave Barry, for example. Depression comes with intrusive thoughts that can fill you with dread. For instance, I walked by a pet store with a dog crate in window. I noticed that the crate had a warning about not putting dogs wearing collars into the crate because of an extremely unlikely chance that they could strangle themselves. I’m sure this disclaimer is there because this happened maybe a handful of times, but right there in the middle of the mall, I became absolutely certain that my dog, at home in her crate with a collar on, was dead. The depression plus the chance encounter with the suggestion of a bad thing sent me into a spiral. The intrusive thoughts are very real and very scary, but it doesn’t mean they’re true. Be patient with your depressed loved one. It may have seemed irrational that the scene where Tom Hanks’ character loses Wilson the volleyball friend in “Castaway” made me sob hysterically, convinced that my depression would cause me to lose everyone I loved. My boyfriend just wanted to rent a movie. Anything can be triggering. Keep things light.

    10.) Fake it ’til you make it. Sometimes you have to just force yourself to do one or two “normal” things to over come the inertia that depression saddles you with. For me, this involved showering. It was really hard to get out of bed and into the shower. Like, epically hard. Like, “do my own taxes” hard. My boyfriend would literally turn the water on, check the temperature, give me a towel and a bar of soap and say, “Do it.” He was incredibly loving about it, and I felt so much better once I washed that other things seemed less hard.

    So, unfortunately, depression only gets better when the severely depressed person fights with everything they’ve got. But if those ten things I listed above give the letter writer or someone else coping with this some ideas, then I’ve done my good deed for the day. Take gentle care, everyone.

    • This! so many times. Thank you for sharing, for laying out what an arduous process getting help can be, for reminding me that I should fight. A. Lot.

      • YES. Fight! Fight, Michele, fight! You can beat this. I promise. You might want to pick up “The Depression Workbook” by Mary Ellen Copeland. My therapist recommended it when I was desperate for something that I could DO to help me feel like I was making progress. You can get it at Barnes and Noble in the self-help or psychology section. There are simple exercises, and a lot of insights from the author who battled depression (and mania, too, I think). All of the stuff I mentioned is in there, plus a lot more. She even has a sample schedule for a depressed person who is working and one for a depressed person who can’t work. Don’t give up!

    • “My boyfriend would literally turn the water on, check the temperature, give me a towel and a bar of soap and say, “Do it.” He was incredibly loving about it, and I felt so much better once I washed that other things seemed less hard.”

      This is so beautiful! My husband and I have come up with a sort of plan when one of us has gone to the bad place. We make sure our daughter is asleep in bed ( usually things are bad all day but no one really notices until the end of the day, when we’re exhausted), and then the partner who is feeling okay gets the other one to bed. It’s simple, but just the act of holding your partners hand and saying, “come to bed with me” shows so much love. It’s a way that we put any anger or frustration to the side and instead only focus on helping the partner get through the bad feelings. We can always fight later when we’re in a healthier place! And then once in bed, we don’t try to talk or do anything. I’ll usually just tell my husband that I love him, and then I tuck my head under his chin and we go to sleep. Simple, loving, safe, and secure. : )

  13. As an obsessive-compulsive individual with depressive tendencies, I completely sympathize from both ends. You feel like you’re losing your partner. He feels like he’s lost himself. Trying to understand what he’s going through is a wrenching thing (I, like lots of others here, recommend the Hyperbole and a Half post for that), but try. It’ll help him to know that somebody cares to think about it from his vantage point and not just the “positivity fixes EVERYTHING” camp.

    What helped my husband a lot was coming to therapy with me. He was iffy on the idea, but when it came to couple stuff and how my disorders were affecting the relationship, he was a lot more open to it. You can gently suggest that you go together, make an appointment, and stick to it. Even if he opts not to come, you yourself can benefit from an impartial ear.

    No matter what, a loving conversation needs to come out of this. He needs to hear how this impacts you- he may not be aware. I second the above suggestion that you gently tell him that you need to put some energy into something that relaxes and regenerates you- you’re under a lot of stress, too, and you deserve to acknowledge that and deal with it how you need to. If that’s meeting people, volunteering, a hobby, something- take care of yourself, too.

    Ultimately, the most you can do is continue to love him and support him. The decision to pursue treatment is a personal one, no matter how close others might be to the patient. Help him arrive there by continuing to be sympathetic and helpful, but also setting a healthy example in self-care. All the best to you.

  14. I would recommend that you get all the support you possibly can for yourself, including therapy. I had to meet someone who was dedicated to take really good care of herself and openly talking about her struggles and her need for support. It made me feel like, oh, that could be for me, too (never would have occurred to me without that normalizing influence). Plus, therapy is good for everyone! One doesn’t have to wait until one is completely depleted–get support now and prevent burnout. <3

  15. I’m gonna say something, as someone who has depression/anxiety (diagnosed) and has a partner who also has depression (undiagnosed)… and it’s gonna sound really awful and mean and nasty.

    You are not responsible for someone else’s mental health.

    There! Phew.

    If your partner doesn’t want to go to a therapist and their issues are really intense, even if you love them, it is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. Of course, just getting up to go see a therapist is fucking hard – it took me several months. And once I had anti-depressants, they made me feel suicidal and gross and thank fuck I was trying them over winter holidays because there was no way I could have worked like that.

    At the end of the day, you need to look out for your health. You need to come first in your life. Give your partner all the resources they need, then take your hands off of it. You do not deserve to be yelled at just because they have some shit to work through.

    • Yes, I agree with this. As a partner you cannot tell them how to take care of themselves. I think as a partner, your role in all this is gentle, loving support. It’s easy to try and “fix” it, but that places stress on everybody. The less stress, the better, in my opinion. Because there really is no “end game” to seeking mental health, but good mental health is easier to maintain when someone who’s suffering has a good support network.

  16. Everyone’s relationship is different, and only you can really judge how to approach your partner.

    Things were really, really bad with my husband’s mental health. I spent some time talking to a counsellor myself, getting my coping-ducks in a row; and eventually sat down with him and explained that I could not allow his mental situation to ruin me as well. I promised him that I would always, always stick by him however shit the situation was – on the condition that he be TRYING to deal with the problem. I didn’t expect any particular result, I just had to see him making an effort. Whether that be going to counselling, taking meds, reading things on the internet and trying them for himself, I didn’t care – but he couldn’t just do nothing.

    He agreed to get help, and it’s been a comprehensively crap couple of years, but they’ve been a crawl upwards, and things are getting steadily better. I am really proud of the work he’s put in – but at the end of the day, it’s only happened because HE chose to. I might have pushed him, but I couldn’t force him to recover. That had to happen from the inside out.

    Hang in there, it’s a tough road to walk but it can and does get better.

  17. Going to therapy was super hard for my husband as well. Actually, he manage to get help without ”going to therapy”; he went to see a career counselor, and it changed everything for him. Same thing for my step-mom, who ended up with as osteopath and then moved to therapy when she was ready. Forcing things won’t help, you just have to find the right way for your loved ones to get help. 🙂

  18. 25 years ago my husband was suicidally depressed…. we had young children and a financial crisis. It manifests as irritability and you have to walk on eggshells. It was so horrible. As you describe it, it sounds very similar. We couldn’t afford therapy. The doctor prescribed Prozac.

    It takes weeks to kick in… but IT WORKED miraculously for him.

    Please strongly suggest your s.o. to see a Dr. and try anti- depressants. I am almost anti-pharmacueticals and don’t take any meds. (I’m 63) but the Prozac helped my husband so much and saved our (now 40 year) marriage and his life.

  19. As someone who used to struggle herself, I can say that one of the best things about my partner is that he is totally able to take care of himself. He did not get drawn into my downward spirals (when they were still happening) and to this day is fully capable of making sure his own needs are met. (He also always takes good care of me when I need it and is always there for a hug or a stupid joke.) I think I would resent him today if things had been different.

    So – make sure you are okay. Helping your significant other is a good thing, but you cannot save him unless he wants to save himself. I know many people are reluctant about seeing a therapist, so maybe he could have all physical possibilities checked out first – thyroid, vitamin D levels and such.

  20. First of all, this is a really difficult situation to be in and I’m really sorry that you’re currently in it. My advice to you is:

    1) Set boundaries: This is a painful thing to do, but you have to decide how much you can handle or tolerate and how long you can wait for your partner to help, or if the depression is situational (like related to being in a bad job) how long you can wait for your partner to take a step towards getting out of that situation. Some situational depression, like dealing with the loss of a loved one, just takes time and empathy. But there needs to be a limit to how much you can give of yourself before it starts to effect your own health and happiness.

    2) Have a frank conversation with your partner about how their depression is impacting your relationship and that you would like them to seek help. Understand that you can’t force them to get help.

    3) Understand that depression is a hard thing to get control of sometimes, and that the important thing is forward progress toward getting help, or getting things sorted out, and that that’s what important, not an instant fix. Not all drugs work for all people and it can take time to even get that part sorted out.

    4) Direct your partner to professional help including seeing a physician that could prescribe medicine and to a counselor. Drugs are NOT a bad thing especially when you’re first trying to get something under control. A lot of people have a stigma about seeking help or drugs, which is ridiculous because you would never not treat another type of serious health condition, like heart disease.

    4) Take good care of yourself. That means see other people like friends, do nice things for yourself, rest, watch crappy TV, anything that helps you as a “caretaker” or partner in this situation support your self in ways that aren’t tied to your partner.

    My experience: I have had partners and family members who have suffered from depression and related conditions (and myself have gone through periods of dealing with depression). For my family: I can put geographical distance between them and me but I’m never not going to be there for them. There was a relationship that I was in for about two years that literally fell apart for a while because of my partner’s refusal to seek help. That was incredibly painful because I had not set the best boundaries and had been nothing but empathetic. But even I have my limits. Now that I’m married to someone else, I’ve made the commitment to be there for my husband, but I also know that I can have frank conversations with him, and that he will seek help or take action to get out of a bad job, for example, fairly quickly if needed. And that’s all that really matters to me, besides him being healthy and happy.

  21. I can speak a bit from the depression side. It took me a long time to admit to myself that I was seriously not well, and by that point, I didn’t know how to ask for help in a straightforward way. I was ashamed, and I felt like I would let everyone down, that it was my fault, that I should be somehow stronger or better or smarter than what I was feeling.

    I started dropping hints to my closest friends how badly I really felt and I stopped hiding the injuries I was causing myself. But I still didn’t know how to come straight out and talk to my parents about it. My mother eventually noticed and got me to our doctor, who prescribed and anti-depressant. Unfortunately, I went from the point of near-comatose apathy to that oh-so-dangerous, just awake enough to not want to be alive anymore. Depressed 17 year olds should NOT be in a house that owns a handgun. Luckily, I told someone what I was planning. And that someone told an adult, and I am still here and alive. (And I send him loving text messages every year continuing to apologize for making him spend his 17th birthday in a locked ER room with me).

    For a depressed person, even being able to say “I think I’m depressed” can be a request for help. I didn’t know how to articulate what I wanted/needed. So I’d say random upsetting things instead.

    Be aware that if medication is prescribed, there is a possibility that it can make things seem WORSE for a while. For me, I started feeling aware again long before my moods started to change. Which meant, for a little while, I didn’t feel any better, but became more aware of how badly I really felt. That’s when the suicidal ideation kicked in. It hurt to much to feel, so I wanted to stop feeling in any way I could. There was also a selfishness component in there. When I was at rock bottom, I was aware in an abstract way of how much my death would hurt the people I loved, and that was a deterrent, despite not wanting to be alive, my wishes on that were not important enough to hurt my family/friends by acting on them. When I started on the meds, I was still bad enough to want to die, but I was suddenly able to prioritize myself a little more. It led to thoughts like “I’m tired of hurting. I know it will hurt my family, but I’M hurting NOW.”

    Don’t be afraid to talk about side-effects and trying a different medication. When I was 17, I wasn’t so upset about the complete loss of my sex drive. I literally didn’t have a sexual drive for 3 years (the entire time I was on medication). These days, I would find that completely unacceptable and would ask the doctor for other options.

    Also, be prepared for the possibility of a lifetime of struggle with this. While I have never hit bottom like I did 13 years ago, I still struggle with less serious depressions roughly every 2 years or so. It’s affected my family life, my social life, and my work (probably even my promotion track). I’m more aware of it than I used to be, so I can be more proactive about taking care of myself (better diet, more exercise, etc).

  22. I just want to thank all the people here for their specific and compassionate comments. My boyfriend and I have been seriously considering marriage for the past 10 months or so. I have been the hold out because I have been fearful that he show signs of depression. He has refused my pleas to see a therapist.

    My main concern is that I am not sure I want to “buy in” completely if there is a chance he might become distant, emotionless and unable to function some day, especially if we have kids and I need him to be fully present.

    Reading this post and the comments (and the Hyperbole post) has made me realize a few things:

    1. My bf is not depressed, he is just anxious in appropriate situations and overly self-critical. (An apology is in order on my part)
    2. Even if he does become depressed some day, I am a competent, capable adult and I can support him if I have to.
    3. I identify with many of the feels (and non-feels) in the Hyperbole post. But only sometimes. I think that many people, myself included, can benefit from periodic mental health check-ups. I will get on that.

  23. I am *very* glad I decided to read this article. At the beginning of our relationship, my husband (then boyfriend) had been depressed, and it took me 5 years to convince him to go see a therapist. I read monk-monk’s comment above and I suddenly remembered feeling distressed a few years back because I could tell my moods had lowered severely and my outlook was darker than before. Thinking back on it, though my concern went away, I don’t think the changes did, so I took the test from Feeling Good (off of Amazon’s website) just to see … I think a trip to therapist is in order for me… Thank you for this article and your comments. (As I’m typing this, I realize that I’m procrastinating grading homework for my student teaching position that I no longer feel any motivation for or interest in finishing…)

    • I have a final paper due tonight. I’m reading this instead. This is my way of cooping with the intense amount of Anxiety I feel. You are not alone. : )

  24. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned here, for people dealing with mental health issues in the US at least, is NAMI (which stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness), Their services vary by local chapter, but I’ve been going to a friends and family support group in my area for the last 4 years, and it’s been really helpful.

  25. Ive been on both sides of the depression fence (and anxiety and stress). what gave me my cure, and keeps me going since, and has helped other people in my life too, is cognitive behaviour therapy. thats the website for the self help version, which is all online – and gets ‘prescribed’ by the NHS in the uk. Im now trained in deliverying the course (and if anyone is in the UK, groups run in lots of places for it too).
    Its massively successful (as effective as medication, and re-occurance rates are far lower than if you just use medication), as long as the person wants to do something, and it can be seen as having less stigma than seeing a therapist, or just baby steps to something without having to ‘fix’ EVERYTHING.
    If you are supporting someone with depression, that can be helpful too, and theres access to relaxation MP3s which can help keep you going, i cant remember if the site has it, but the book you can get with it has a section for family and friends.
    the techniques in the website can help with your moments of stress or upset too, as can mindfulness- which also helps depression – which kind of lets you get your distance without just walking away from him.
    equally you need to cultivate your own life. if you wait on him to go out with you or have fun, you could be waiting a long time! better to go out your self and get some enjoyment and balance to then come back and keep supporting him.
    good luck!

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