Helpguide for Understanding Depression Part 5

Tips for surviving living with a depressed person


People who are depressed are not behaving this way intentionally. They did not cause the problem, nor can they just “snap out of it,” any more than other illnesses. It is not always easy to live with a depressed person.

Normally, partners are sources of understanding, fun and intellectual stimulation, support with difficulties and also partners in sexual intimacy. A depressed person cannot provide you with these usual resources. You still have these needs, and for a time may have to find other appropriate sources for fun, support and stimulation: time with family, friends or colleagues; enjoyable hobbies or activities; and perhaps counselling for yourself.

You need to take care of yourself - keeping yourself mentally healthy is not selfish. It is essential for your own safety and to continue to be helpful to your loved one.

Here are some tips for survival. Things you can do to help the depressed person:

  • Learn about the disorder so you will have a better understanding of what is happening.
  • Try to be supportive, loving and empathic.
  • Keep reaching out, calling, and letting the person know you care. Offer kindness and attention, even if it is not reciprocated.
  • Don’t be hostile or sarcastic when the person makes meagre attempts to be responsive - accept their efforts as the best they have to offer at that time.
  • Don’t take over things that the other person CAN handle, as this will further erode self-confidence.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of the other person and the relationship.
  • Listen non-judgmentally.
  • Don’t push the other person’s buttons.
  • Remind the person that this is an illness, that he/she is not to blame for feeling “down.”
  • Don’t lie or make excuses for his/her behaviour—this may only delay getting assistance.
  • Encourage the person to get professional assistance—for both of your sakes. A complete medical examina­tion can help rule out organic sources of depression (such as a thyroid or endocrine imbalance).
  • Be patient—treatment for depression takes time.
  • At a time when he/she is less depressed, try to reach agreement with the depressed person to outline ways you can be helpful when depression sets in.
  • Take suicidal comments seriously and call for emergency help, if needed.

Things you can do to help the children of a depressed person:

  • Reassure children that they did not cause their parent’s depressive illness.
  • Give children extra attention and kindness, as they are likely to be missing that from a depressed parent.
  • Encourage children to have activities with other family members and friends so their emotional state is not totally dependent upon their parent’s mood.
  • Seek family counselling to help all individuals to better understand and support each other.

Things you can do to help yourself if your loved one is depressed:

  • Don’t take the other person’s actions personally—they are not directed toward you, even if it feels like they are.
  • Do your best not to feel guilty. You didn’t cause the other person’s depression and you can’t “cure” it.
  • Don’t try to “rescue” or “save” the other person.
  • Know that your feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, and exhaustion are completely normal and understandable.
  • Express your feelings without blaming or shaming the other person. Let go of your anger - frustration is very understandable but is not helpful to anyone.
  • Don’t read rejection into your partner’s sexual unavailability - even though it feels bad, it’s not a reflection on you. Find other ways to express loving feelings when sexual contact is limited or non-existent.
  • Don’t look outside the relationship for sexual intimacy -you risk destroying the chance of the relationship recovering when your partner’s condition improves.
  • Choose healthy lifestyles - get enough rest, eat balanced meals, exercise regularly, and keep up your own social network.
  • Talk regularly with someone who will listen without giving advice unless you ask for it - this could be a trusted friend, clergy, or therapist.
  • Share the care-giving responsibilities with other family members.
  • Don’t be a martyr - give freely and without resentment while also taking time for your own needs.
  • Give yourself time alone and with friends to socialize and have fun.
  • Identify your own needs and boundaries and express them clearly.
  • Remember that depression is a treatable condition and that, with time and assistance, your loved one will improve.

In summary, to survive living with a depressed person, remember the airlines’ advice to put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help another—you will be unable to help your loved one if you collapse under the burden of helping.


The importance of skills in dealing with depression

- From The Art of Avoiding Depression, by Michael D. Yapko, Psychology Today.

Some of the skills needed for avoiding or dealing with depression are:

  • The ability to recognize and tolerate ambiguity. In life there are often no single correct answers to situations.  This realisation may lead to negative inter­preta­tions and negative conclusions that can lead to depression.
  • Empowering yourself. People tend to under­estimate or overestimate the amount of control they actually have over situations. If they assume they’re helpless when they’re not, they don’t even try. The ability to recognize what you are and are not responsible for is directly related to how much guilt you experience.

You need to be able to discriminate between:

  • Ways in which you are defined by your achievements and ways you are not.
  • The ability to clearly articulate goals.
  • The ability to discriminate between what you feel versus what is objectively true.
  • When it’s okay to focus on the present, and when it’s better to concentrate on the future.

Relationship skills are also important in combating or avoiding depression.  “We’ve known for decades that relationships serve as buffers against illness and emotional disorders. The people who are at the greatest risk for depression are those who are most lonely. Demographically, single women face the highest risk; married men, the lowest. So it’s crucial to know how to meet people, assess them, communicate with them, let them know you’re interested in them. And once you’re in a relationship, you need to take steps to keep it healthy, such as asserting personal boundaries and setting up the rules by which the relationship will operate.”



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