Top 7 Signs to Look For When You Think Your Partner Has Depression, and How to Help
When your partner has depression, it can affect all aspects of your life at once. While depression brings with it feelings of hopelessness, the opportunities for recovery are anything but hopeless. In partnership, you can gain the awareness to recognize signs of depression in your loved one. Then, while taking care of yourself, you can initiate some first steps to help your partner find the road to recovery.
Clara didn’t think much of her husband’s unusual withdrawal tendencies at first. Eventually, it became a regular part of their daily routine. They were spending less and less time together in the evenings as he would disappear into the office on his computer and stay there until long after she went to bed. Every day, she would hope for some interaction and invite him to eat with her or talk or even to watch TV. When she did finally confront him about how his habits were affecting their life together, it only made him angry and he retreated even more.
When your partner has depression, you too can get caught up in the cycles of their moods and unexplainable suffering. Sometimes, it can feel as if you’re along for the ride of their extremes. Your partner’s depression isn’t yours to suffer through; nor is their healing your responsibility. But you can help by becoming aware of signs of depression in your partner and encouraging them to get the help they need. It is possible for them to rediscover feelings of empowerment, motivation, and true engagement with life.
How Can You Recognize When Your Partner Has Depression?
In relationships, we often see more truths about our partners—positives and negatives—than other people see. We tend to see them at their most vulnerable. We may be the first to recognize that they are experiencing symptoms of depression, perhaps even before they can recognize it themselves.
The following are some common signs of depression, but it’s important to note that everyone’s experience is unique. You may be in the best position to notice changes in your partner’s typical moods, habits, and thought patterns.
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of interest
- Mood swings
- Abnormal sleeping patterns
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Thoughts about death and suicide
Depression often comes with a sense that there is no hope to overcome the present suffering. People with depression can experience feelings of worthlessness, shame, ungrounded guilt, self-hate, and disappointment. And their expression may take on a pessimistic tone. With these kinds of deep feelings, it becomes difficult to engage with life and feel motivated to move forward out of the darkness.
It’s common for depressed individuals to lose interest in things and activities they used to enjoy. These things may be hobbies, relationships, social life, intellectual pursuits, self-care, and even sex. It can feel as if they no longer identify with the person they used to be, and they are at a loss to affect their ways of relating to people, to activities, to themselves, to life in general. Under the weight of depression, individuals may withdraw, avoiding interactions and responsibilities that they now feel isolated from.
Depression can bring changes in mood that can’t always be related to situational challenges. These changes can represent extremes of emotional experience—everything from numbness or feeling empty to reactivity through anger and aggression. It’s significant to look not only at how your partner’s moods shift within the course of a day or a week, but also at how the quality of their moods have changed over time compared to how you’ve known them in the past.
Although depression doesn’t cause anxiety—and vice versa—people often experience depression and anxiety together. Your partner may appear nervous, restless, irritable, and tense. Their heart rate, breathing, and propensity to sweat may change. They may have a short temper. They might also have a shorter than normal attention span as their mind wanders and they have difficulty making decisions. They may even be more prone to compulsive behaviors, including using substances or spending large amounts of time on the internet.
Altered Sleep Patterns
In cases where people are experiencing anxiety and overwhelming thought patterns, it can make it difficult to fall asleep. They may develop insomnia, making it even more challenging to face the daily weight of depression. On the other hand, depression can lead to general fatigue and excessive sleeping, making it harder to find the energy to move forward. Again, it helps to observe your partner’s current sleeping patterns and watch for shifts from past habits.
As depression tends to spread into all areas of life for the affected individual, even their natural appetite can change. It can go in either direction: leading them to overeat as an attempt to cope with depressive symptoms, or leading them to undereat as they lose interest and the drive to sustain their own vitality. In time, depression can even be linked to digestive issues that can’t be explained by other root causes. Watch for changes in how your partner now eats and relates to mealtimes, as well as any uncharacteristic weight gain or weight loss.
Suicidal Thoughts and Attempts
Not all individuals with depression have thoughts of suicide, but when they do it is a very serious warning sign. Often related to feelings of hopelessness and being controlled by their emotional experiences, people look for ways to end their suffering. For society in general, the topic of suicide is one that we avoid, but favoring that discomfort can leave depressed individuals feeling even more isolated and hopeless. Even a hint of suicidal ideation or preoccupation with death should be taken seriously. In this case, it’s time to seek professional help and support.
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How Can You Help When You Notice Signs of Depression?
While you can be an enormous help by recognizing the signs of your partner’s depression and offering compassionate support, it’s critically important that you do not take the full responsibility of their recovery on your shoulders. You can:
- Listen. Hold space to listen to your partner without judgment, so they can express what they are going through and counter some of the effects of isolation. Take their thoughts and feelings seriously, even if you have a hard time relating them to your familiar reality.
- Encourage outside help. Do some research to determine the different treatment options available for depression. It’s important that your partner knows that they don’t have to go through this difficult time alone. Without pressure, let them know that they have options to find support. If they aren’t yet ready for a dedicated program or therapy, ask if there is someone in their community they’re comfortable with who they would be willing to talk to.
- Respond to emergencies. While it can help to give your partner some space to gradually approach recover, if there’s a chance that they might be at risk of suicide or other self-harm, call 911 or a suicide hotline.
- Set boundaries. The more you can recognize where your partner’s thoughts and feelings end and where yours begin, the better. It’s okay for you to set limits on the support you’re able and willing to offer without compromising your health and sense of self.
- Take care of you. When your partner is in the depths of depression, it can be easy to prioritize their needs and concerns over everything else. But you need to be able to take care of yourself for your own sake.
Your own practices of self-love and care also set an important example as your partner starts to work back toward that direction themselves in recovery. Depression can have very serious consequences for one’s health and quality of life, but we can help those affected individuals to overcome the characteristic paralysis step by step and move toward the many resources and support systems that exist for recovery.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.
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