Dealing with depression or anxiety in a relationship can be really hard. Although mood disorders have become fairly common in today’s time, little attention is given to the impact that these disorders have on intimate relationships. Having your partner diagnosed with a mood disorder can cause a strain on both you and your partner. Here are some commonly asked questions.
How do I know if my partner has depression?
Depression in your partner can manifest in a number of ways. You might notice them being sad and irritable more often, they may cry more easily, may complain of fatigue or tiredness more often. Their sleep cycle may also alter in a way that they sleep less or wake up early in the morning and appear to be very sad at the time. Their appetite may also decrease and they may lose weight without intending to do so. They might withdraw socially and not like going out as often with friends or with you. They may also not like doing things they found pleasurable earlier. Their sex drive might reduce considerably.
If you notice these signs over a period of time, you might want to ask them if they would like to talk about what is bothering them. This said, a week of feeling sad does not mean they have depression. To recognise that what they are going through is depression, there needs to be a cluster of these symptoms for at least two weeks.
How do I identify if my partner has anxiety?
Anxiety may be a little more difficult to gauge in a partner than depression. They might not be socially withdrawn like in depression but express a lot of worry and tension over things that did not cause them worry earlier. They might repeatedly ask you questions about the same thing and may not be satisfied. They may exhibit avoidant behaviour in certain situations. Physically, they might complain of headaches more often and even body pain. They may always be overwhelmed and feel like they do not have the required resources to cope with what is making them tense.
How should I communicate with my partner in a way that doesn’t hurt them?
The first step to communicate effectively would be to sensitively bring to your partner’s attention that you have been noticing some change in their behaviour. It’s best to talk to them in a non-accusatory tone. Use open ended statements and questions like, “You seem a little more worried of late, do you feel okay? Let me know if you want to talk?”. Inquiring gently about their wellbeing can help create a safe space where they might feel inclined to open up about difficult thoughts and feelings.
What do I do if my partner is not willing to seek help?
After asking a partner to share their experience they might feel relieved and talk to you or get defensive. Both reactions are normal and acceptable given the situation. A person with depression may be able to function without hindrance for the most part and face lows with a frequency determined by the severity of their illness. When they are having a difficult day or episode, it's important to remind them that how they're feeling is not their fault. You can talk about the option of seeking help from a mental health professional. If they are averse to this and find it overwhelming, you can mention the option of reading a self-help book, visiting an informational website to learn more about good mental health.
The decision to seek help from a mental health professional is a very, very personal one. Your partner is an individual who must have complete control over whether they wish to go to a therapist and/or psychiatrist. It doesn't matter how well-intentioned you are and how much you want them to feel better, this is not something that you get to decide.
How do I take care of myself when I’m spending most of my time taking care of my partner?
Self-care when you are the primary caregiver to a depressed or anxious partner is of utmost importance. There are three levels to it:
Cognitively, you might feel guilty for how your partner is feeling. You might have questions like “Did I the cause of depression in any way?”, “Did something I do make their depression worse?”. You might feel frustrated by thinking that no matter how much you try, it never seems enough. It's important to acknowledge that you are not the cause of your partner's depression. Holding yourself responsible for your partner feeling depressed is likely to result in an endless spiral of guilt for you, this could potentially be damaging for the relationship.
Emotionally, there may be times when your partner's mood affects you. This is especially tricky to negotiate, being empathetic can quickly move to also sharing the same emotions as the other. Maintaining boundaries is essential to ensure your wellbeing, you could have a conversation with your partner about feelings of guilt that you might be having. This will help you stay more centred about your own emotions. It will allow you to experience emotions you're feeling without getting affected by what your partner is feeling at the time.
Practically, you should give yourself enough time-outs. Do things that make you feel good about yourself. On days when you need a break, don't shy away from asking a close friend or family member to help out with being there for your partner. Being there for them could mean picking up their medicines, keeping them company at home, accompanying them to a doctor's visit etc.
There might be times when your partner may say negative things about you or the relationship. Recognising that this is not always personal and is often because of the depression or anxiety can help you maintain some distance to avoid feeling excessively hurt.
How long will it take for them to recover? After recovery, what can I do to prevent relapse?
Typically, it takes a person anywhere between 2 to 8 months to recover from depression. Sometimes, if it is caused due to a specific situation or life-stressor, it might go away as soon as the situation changes or when the life-stressor goes away. Chronic depression might take longer and will involve more patience on your part to begin seeing a change in your partner.
After recovery, there are a couple of things you could do. If there is an identifiable situation which precipitated the episode, try to change some of that if possible. Identify triggers, discuss realistic ways to avoid them if possible, think of a plan to manage them in case they occur. This can be done with the help of a mental health professional as well as in individual capacities by using resources available online. On a personal level, it is important for your partner to maintain healthy and consistent biological patterns of sleep, appetite and diet. A change in these can make them vulnerable to another episode. Follow ups with the therapist/psychiatrist/GP must be taken seriously and not missed. Addressing thought patterns that have previously led to depression or anxiety and replacing them with healthier coping mechanisms is important to maintain good mental health in the long run.
Written with inputs from psychologist Dr Rathna Isaac
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