How to care for a partner with a mood disorder

You can't pour from an empty cup. Here are some tips and strategies to take care of yourself and your partner.

Ritika Dhaliwal

Having a partner who has depression can be stressful. Although mood disorders are common today, not much attention is not given to the effect that these disorders have on close relationships. Some common symptoms like withdrawal, decreased social interaction, and the lack of interest in activities can make these relationships a struggle.

It can also affect you because when you are caring for someone you love, your focus shifts to their happiness and you unknowingly ignore your own needs and wants. Looking after a partner with a mental health problem thus becomes very complicated. When your partner is going through a mental illness, it is imperative to take care of yourself, both for yourself and so that you can support your partner.

Here are some techniques that might be useful. 

Don’t deny the problem. 

The first thing that a partner may do is to ignore and deny that there is a problem. It might be difficult at first. But the sooner you accept it and urge your partner to seek help, the better the results will be.

Instead of denying things, it is best to confront the challenges and maintain healthy open communication with them: this maintains a sense of trust and intimacy. Try asking open-ended questions: "I've been noticing some change in your mood and behaviour. Is something bothering you? Would you like to talk about it?" This helps the partner to open up and feel cared for.

Get involved.

Learn about the illness that your partner is going through. Being aware of what the illness looks like and how it can be treated will help you to deal with it in a better way. You will also learn how you could reduce the effect of the illness on the relationship. Although most illnesses have common symptoms, they may manifest differently in each individual. Be aware of the specific symptoms that your partner expresses. To do this, you could accompany your partner to the therapist or the doctor.

Take care of your own happiness. 

Do things that make you happy. Take a day off, go out with your friends, watch a movie. You will also be giving your partner some space and time. 

Involve other people. 

Share the caregiving with others: you'll be able to make more time for yourself and decrease the responsibility on your shoulders. Your partner will also feel better knowing that there are other people concerned about them.

Don't hold yourself responsible for their happiness. 

Remember: what they are going through is a health issue. They will take time to recover. Do not blame yourself if they are sad. Support them by going with them to the therapist and encouraging them to do things they like, but don't take on the burden of creating happiness for them.

Don’t take it personally. 

Depression can alter emotions. Know that if they are low, it is not because of you, but because of the health issue that they are going through. One way to help them and yourself when they are low is to decrease your expectations from them. It is normal for them to not be reacting the way they do generally to environmental stimuli.

Get professional help for yourself. 

Caregiving can decrease one's resilience. Don't be afraid to seek help from a professional if you feel overwhelmed and on the verge of a breakdown yourself.

Written with inputs from Dr. Rathna Issac, Clinical Psychologist.