It’s true to say that depression has many faces. Often it’s easy to see that a partner might be feeling down. At other times, masked depression might mean that it’s not clear that your partner is depressed because on the surface, they appear to be functioning and getting on with life.
Some people may experience a depression and show all the signs and symptoms and be unable to function well socially or at work. Other people may appear not to be affected but can privately feel down and depressed. Often when people appear to be coping, others around them may be unaware that there’s a problem. Sometimes there are clues that all is not well and it’s important to understand that these clues might help unlock the experience for the partner who is suffering a depression. If a depression is masked and goes unacknowledged, it’s difficult to work on overcoming the negative feelings – and it’s hard for a person to help their partner return to a more balanced way of functioning.
Impaired daily functioning
Depression, however obviously or subtly, impairs daily functioning. When you live with someone, you become attuned to their rhythm of life and any variation on this could mean there’s a problem. Often, the person may not be consciously aware that they are depressed. There may be an element of denial at work, or they may just be feeling ‘out of sorts’ and think that it isn’t serious.
Has your partner complained about feeling tired and not being able to sleep? Or have they shown signs of unusual sleepiness and inability to get out of bed in the morning? Perhaps you’ve noticed that they are eating less or maybe more. The following are some of the signs and symptoms that indicate a possible depression:
- increased alcohol or drug use
- withdrawal from social events
- more sensitivity to minor personal feedback
- staying home from work
- increased complaints about physical health problems such as pain and fatigue
- loss of interest in food, sex, exercise and other pleasurable activities
- increase in appetite
- sleeping too little or too much
These tell-tale signs are not temporary ones. For a depression to be established, at least four of these signs must be evident for a period of 10 days or longer.
Living with a partner who’s depressed
Often the behaviors of people experiencing a depression are not easy to live with and can cause distress not only to the person, but also to their partner and other family members.
Confronting as it might be, people have reported to researchers that as a consequence of the behavior of their partners, they often withdraw their support and simply stop trying to help. They report their partner’s behavior difficult to live with and sometimes, when they’ve tried to help, they’ve been rebuffed and the situation has worsened for all involved. Remaining supportive in the face of agitation and perceived rejection by the person you’re trying to help can be challenging.
Just hoping that things will get better for your partner is not going to work. It’s a bit like magical thinking.
What you can do to help your partner
Most people with depression don’t rush to tell anyone else what is happening inside their head. They might be scared of what others will think or say and are often afraid of what they may do themselves if anyone else finds out. Consequently, it’s those closest to the person who can be the most helpful. By recognizing the changes in behavior that accompany depression and stopping to ask themselves, ‘Could that behavior mean that my partner is depressed?’ is a good first step.
Being there for your partner
Being supportive of your partner means being there for them. Being there can mean:
- being understanding of their troubled thoughts and feelings
- being accepting of their challenging behavior
- being emotionally available to them when they’re ready to talk about their experience
Above all, developing a sense of empathy for your partner is crucial. Your empathy for your partner’s experience will convey to them that you care and that your compassion and acceptance will help them overcome their troubled times.
Author Bio: Zita Weber, Ph.D. is an author and honorary academic, and has worked as a counselor and therapist with individuals, couples and families. She has researched and written about communication, relationships, sexuality, depression and loss and grief. More information about her work and books can be found at: http://zitaweber.com. To learn more about depression and the skills and strategies to deal with it, see Losing the 21st Century Blues