For John, it seemed like one day he woke up and life as he knew it had changed. Maura, his wife, was anxious, but it was a different kind of anxiousness. Initially John comforted Maura, reassuring her that her worries were unfounded. However, things got progressively worse, Maura's mood remained low, she began to talk about how useless she was, that she was a bad parent, and how she couldn't understand why John still wanted her. Soon Maura began staying in bed in the mornings. She was unable to foster her usual 'up and at it' attitude that had been such a big part of their busy morning routine.
Maura's weight also steadily increased as she became less active and began to eat more. As her weight increased, so did Maura's feelings of worthlessness. Sex became non-existent between them with Maura turning away from John, complaining of tiredness or a variety of other aches and pains. As the weeks turned into months, John watched helplessly as his once vibrant, happy wife, evolved into a woman he felt he could no longer reach. What John didn't know was Maura was displaying all the signs of someone suffering with depression.
Depression can follow a traumatic event
Right now over 400,000 people in Ireland are experiencing depression but many are unaware and so the condition remains untreated. A first bout of depression often occurs after a traumatic life event however if left untreated it can leave one vulnerable to future episodes of depression. Therefore, early recognition of the symptoms followed by access to support or treatment is crucial for a positive outcome. It's probably worth saying that men are diagnosed less with depression, not because they don't suffer with it, but because they don't talk about it. Instead, men will often resort to self-medicating using alcohol or drugs to cope with their depression.
When a loved one withdraws
For every person suffering with depression there is often someone in the background suffering in a different way. For the partner, who does not understand what is happening, they can feel overwhelmed when a spouse withdraws from the relationship and the family. While the person struggling with depression might ask, "Why Me?" the non-depressed partner will often ask, "Is this because of me? Is it something I did?"
When one partner is struggling with depression, it will inevitably put a strain onto an otherwise healthy relationship. A depressed partner while unhappy may also become critical, argumentative, and non-communicative. For the non-depressed partner, they may feel helpless believing no matter what they do, whether it is comforting, supporting, or loving, none of it helps. The unconditional love and understanding a depressed partner needs may stretch even the most tolerant of partners beyond endurance. Emotions such as frustration, resentment, even anger are not uncommon and often followed by the even more intense feelings of guilt. If this is you, take heart, because it's natural. Living with a depressed partner is not easy.
Taking a proactive approach benefits everyone
If you believe your partner is suffering with depression, the good news is depression is treatable and there is a variety of support options available. One of the first things you need to do is to encourage your partner to seek help. If they are not motivated to do so, try helping them recognise there is a problem and that it can be resolved. This is an essential first step to their recovery. Of vital importance is your acceptance that you cannot control or fix a partner's depression. That power lies only with them. What you can control is your response. Therefore, it's essential you educate yourself about depression so you know what you're dealing with.
Equally crucial is your understanding that the symptoms like those described above are a part of the illness and not a reflection on you or your relationship. Make sure you also become alert to your own mood, as it's easy to get caught up in the hopelessness and end up just as de-energised as your depressed partner. You can avoid this happen by putting support in place for you. Maintain as much as possible the things in life you enjoy like social or sporting activities. Talk with a friend who knows and understands your situation. If you don't have a friend to talk to, find a therapist who will act as your support instead.
Self-Care is Crucial
Remember, you are not at fault, you did not choose for your partner to develop this condition, anymore than they chose to have it. While your love and encouragement plays a huge role in a partner's recovery, it will not be possible if you're not taking care of yourself first. By putting simple self-care routines and supports in place, you'll feel better able to cope, and your partner, children and relationship will all benefit.