When a loved one or family member has depression, it takes a toll on the whole household. Parents with a teen or adult child with a depressive disorder may feel an obligation to rescue them. Children with a parent who is struggling with the condition may think they’re at fault for their parent’s negative attitudes and behaviors. And having a spouse or significant other with this common psychiatric disorder may wonder if their relationship will survive.
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting approximately 17.3 million Americans. And those rates are rising due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, twice as many people reported symptoms of the disorder during the pandemic compared to a 2014 national survey that asked about depressed moods. This means more Americans are living with someone who is depressed, which can make you feel anxious, angry, frustrated, neglected, or unloved.
KNOW THE DEPRESSION SYMPTOMS THAT MAY ARISE
One of the first steps to coping more effectively in life with someone with depression is to understand the symptoms and situations that may arise.
Helplessness and Hopelessness
People with depression often have a hopeless outlook on life and feel helpless to change their situation. This attitude may be exacerbated by the pandemic, lockdown, and subsequent economic fallout. Beware that their negativity can be contagious and spread to others in the family.
These days, everybody is dealing with some level of social withdrawal due to stay-at-home orders, but depressed people may also withdraw from the people in your own home. This can make you and other family members feel shut out or disconnected.
Some people with depression—especially men—are more likely to have a short fuse and seem to get angry over the smallest things. When you’re the target of a parent’s, spouse’s, or teen’s angry outbursts or stinging criticisms, it can hurt. You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells in an effort to avoid setting them off.
A lack of energy and overwhelming fatigue are commonly seen in people with depression. Your loved one may be sleeping more and feel unable to handle their usual chores and activities. You might feel annoyed that they aren’t chipping in around the house the way you expect them to.
Loss of Interest
It’s very common for depressed people to feel apathetic about the activities they once enjoyed. You may find yourself saying things like, “Why don’t you go for a bike ride?” or “You should do some painting today.” Their lack of enthusiasm for life can trigger your frustration.
The inability to feel pleasure (called anhedonia) can also spill over into your relationship and cause material conflict. A depressed spouse may not show as much affection to you, may not be interested in sex, or may not want to have a “date night.” You may take it all personally and interpret this as your partner falling out of love with you when really, it’s the depression that’s pulling them away from you. If your needs aren’t being met or it makes you feel insecure about their commitment to you, it creates more friction in the relationship.
Inability to Concentrate, Forgetfulness, or Spaciness
Some people with depression seem to be living in a fog. Their lack of attention and forgetfulness may make you feel neglected or unloved.
Undiagnosed and untreated (or mistreated) depression increases the risk of addictions which can be ruinous for families.
8 HELPFUL STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH A LOVED ONE WHO’S DEPRESSED
- Adopt brain healthy behaviors.Rather than simply telling your loved one what they “should” do—such as exercising, eating right, meditating, and challenging automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)—lead by example. People are more likely to pick up good habits when they are surrounded by others who have healthy routines.
- Don’t take it personally.This can be a real challenge, but try not to take the depressed person’s anger, apathy, or withdrawal personally. Try to step back and objectively see it as a symptom of the disorder. This can help keep you from feeling hurt, angry, or defensive.
- Be willing to listen.People who live with someone who has depressive disorder often want to “fix” things by offering solutions. Sometimes, it’s more beneficial to simply listen when the depressed person wants to share how they’re feeling. Allowing them to talk about their emotions helps get those thoughts out of their head, which can be helpful.
- Find your own joy.When you’re living with someone with depression, it can be easy to let them drag you down into their sadness and negativity. To avoid this, you need to take care of your own needs and do the things that give you pleasure. For instance, if you want to go for a hike, but your loved one can’t muster the energy to join you, do it yourself.
- Notice what you like more than what you don’t like.Pointing out your loved one’s successes, no matter how small, is beneficial for everyone. Make an effort to notice what your loved one is doing right rather than harping on what they’re doing that bothers you.
- Get support when you need it.If you’re struggling with the situation with your loved one, turn to trusted friends or extended family members for some support. Going to counseling or psychotherapy—in person or via telehealth—can be extremely beneficial in helping you learn more about depression and in gaining skills to help you cope more effectively.
- Help loved ones get the help they need.Rather than simply trying to deal with your family member’s symptoms, encourage them to get an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. Depression is associated with many biological issues, such as low blood flow, inflammation, head trauma, exposure to toxins, infections (such as Lyme Disease ) hormonal imbalances, diabesity (the combination of diabetes and obesity), and sleep problems. Finding and treating any underlying issues can help resolve depressive symptoms.
- Know their depression type.Depression isn’t a single or simple disorder. There are multiple types and knowing their type can help get the right treatment.