Mental health issues like depression can feel like a lonely experience
All too often, our mental health affects our relationship in some way – often this can be very upsetting and a trigger getting help
If it is time to seek professional help for depression, find a therapist here
Depression is a debilitating experience which, like any chronic condition, will have an impact on those closest to you. If you are going through depression right now, then you will probably be doing your very best to try and get through each day the only way you know how with whatever means you can. Sometimes, just getting up in the morning, dressing and finding the strength to put one foot in front of the other can feel as though you have run a marathon. It is difficult to summon up the mental and physical energy to think about anyone or anything other than your immediate experience of deep unhappiness.
But depressed people come in all configurations – singletons, coupled, parents, carers – and very few people are not in some kind of relationship with the world, however difficult that relationship might be. So what happens if you feel that your own depression is somehow jeopardising the very relationships which mean most to you?
There can be a tendency to self-blame which is not only unhelpful but can be potentially very damaging to one’s already compromised sense of self-worth. I must be a terrible person to live with because I’m depressed. What if they leave me for someone who’s got their act together and actually functions properly? How can I be a good mother/father to my child when I can barely get through the day?
You can see how easily these negative thoughts might begin to take on a spiral of downward thinking that reinforce one’s sense of helplessness and low esteem. Adding a helping of guilt to the mix will make for a truly sour plateful.
Self-compassion as a first step
This is a big ask of someone who is depressed. It may even sound ludicrous and vaguely offensive. How can I be good to myself when I feel so alienated from the self I actually know? On some level, I may even feel that I deserve to be depressed, depending on the circumstances that brought me low.
Try to look at yourself from the outside, as you might see a good friend or another human being who is suffering. What small thing could you say or do that might help that person feel less alone, less isolated? Perhaps you might suggest a cup of tea and a chat? Or a warm bath? Or a walk in the park? Or engaging with nature at some level – even noticing the animals and wildlife around us. Hard as it sounds when you’re depressed, try to reach out to yourself with some kindness.
When depression affects your relationships
Sometimes however good our personal relationships are, they may not be enough to help us through the experience of clinical depression. It’s no one’s fault – and certainly if you are the depressed one, there’s no reason to add guilt to your experience.
If you have a partner, then they will be affected by your depression one way or another. If you can, try to share what you are feeling with them, by keeping them in the loop with how you are day-to-day. But be mindful that, however supportive, they are not a substitute for a therapist and it would be unfair to place that expectation at their door. Keep your partner for partnership, not therapy. After all, if you had a broken leg, you’d take it to a doctor – you wouldn’t ask your family to mix up some plaster of Paris and have a go at setting your bones? Just because depression isn’t as obvious as a broken limb doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of the right type of treatment.
And, of course, kindness and compassion. Allow yourself to receive whatever practical and emotional help those around you can offer – it will help you and your loved ones will know that they can have a positive impact on your recovery but on terms that are reasonable and not overwhelming. It’s okay to put yourself first here and accept that meal or the offer of a back rub. Chances are your partner will feel better knowing they can make some difference to you right now.
Time to talk
Whatever the reasons for your depression, please know that there will be a way through your difficult experience with the right help and support. This may mean a visit to the GP to get a baseline picture of what is going on with you health-wise (some depression may have a physical basis to it, therefore ruling out this possibility is an essential first step). You may be offered medication to help lift you out of the rut – some people get a bit sniffy about anti-depressants but they have a place in treatment and their short-term value should not be discounted.
Medication aside, it may also be the right time for you to talk to a professional counsellor or therapist, someone who is trained to work with you in a way that helps you understand what is going on for you and who can support you in your recovery. Undoubtedly, a good therapist experience can not only help you through your depression but will work with you to understand what brought you down in the first place. Good therapy will also focus on what changes you might need to make in your life to help you get the balance of living right – and help you to learn to recognise your personal triggers so that your chances of relapse are minimised.
Depression is difficult but it is also a wake-up call to tell you that your life isn’t going the way you need it to. And recovery is not only possible but may lead you to learn to live in ways that will bring you a greater sense of peace and, perhaps, some unexpected joy.
I wish you well.