Relationships and Depression

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Relationship and Depression

Everyone has bad days or struggles. It’s normal for most people to respond to stress, grief, loss of a job or relationship, and other overwhelming situations with sadness or depression. The process of healing or recovering from something stressful is unique for each individual. But, for some, who may be biologically predisposed, fighting a substance abuse problem, a very pessimistic attitude, or an underlying medical condition, a clinical depression, or depressive episode may begin. This can be extremely devastating in romantic relationships.
Many partners will try to encourage their spouse to “snap out of it”, “cheer up’, or “get it together”. It can bring up so many feelings of inadequacy, anger, frustration, guilt and sadness for the non-depressed partner. For the depressed partner who already feels worthless, hopeless and dysfunctional, they can find evidence to support their view that their relationship is just another failure. What many people do not realize is that once a depressive episode sets in, it is not under the person’s control. Biological and chemical changes take place in the brain, and it is a very real medical condition that must be treated, much like Diabetes or Heart Disease. Although depressive episodes can eventually lift on their own, treatment is mandatory to preserve a long term relationship.

One of my clients, Bella* a sweet Eastern European woman, first started to become aware of her husband John’s* depression relatively soon after his job loss from a computer firm. He used to go for long bike rides on the beach, always work on house repairs, laugh with friends over a glass of wine, and their sex life had always been fantastic. At first she thought it was normal for him to stay in bed all day. He needed a break to regain his strength and then she knew he would get online and look for another job, since she was not able to work.
Slowly, one week turned into a month and then two. John stopped talking to her. He wouldn’t eat her delicious meals. He stopped leaving the house and even showering or getting dressed. Their sex life was nonexistent. No matter what she or his family said to encourage him, a dark veil had descended upon him and their words went in one ear and out the other.

a)The first and most important thing to do is seek treatment. What many people do not realize is that over 90% of people with depression respond positively to the tried and tested methods of therapy and medication. It may take a little bit of experimentation to find the right medications and dosages, as well as what type of therapy works best, but it is well worth it. The non-depressed partner must be the advocate for treatment. Set up the appointments and go with your partner to the doctor. Remember this is a medical condition. Most likely, you will need to see a psychiatrist for medication and a therapist for ongoing treatment.

b) Remember that depression is nothing new. It has been around since the beginning of time and different cultures have come up with ways to combat it before medication existed. Depression occurs when certain negative thoughts are thought over and over and pathways are carved into the brain. You may want to try alternative ways of coping with depression, while continuing with therapy. Expose your partner to self help videos, CDs, and books. Encourage them to try mindfulness meditation, which has been proven to help depression. Find a mindfulness class designated for depression, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes. There are many and you can go with them to support them.

Go for walks, when they are up to it, and play a game. Point out everything you see before you that you like. Say things like, “I like the color of the sky today. I like that person’s shirt. I like her hair. Then, encourage them point out one thing they like. It feels funny and eventually you will both laugh, depending on how severe their depression is. It can help show them to look for what they do like, instead of what is wrong, which depressed people typically do. Also, have them list and feel what they are grateful for. Close your eyes with them and really feel the love you feel for the things in your life you cherish. Helping your partner learn to think differently may not be completely effective if they are too severely depressed. But, it is a great option while they are on the road to recovery.

C) Remember to be patient and nurturing. It will get frustrating when they are not in the mood for sex, don’t help out around the house, and are nonresponsive. But keep giving them love, affection, and support as much as you can. Encourage them to express their anger in a healthy way, and not keep it bottled up. Many people believe that depression is anger turned inwards. Get mad with them at whatever it is that has upset them and help them learn to express their anger. This can help shift the energy.

It is always the responsibility of both partners to keep the relationship together. But, when someone is ill, they may not be able to do what it takes to keep the relationship together on their own. But, the part that is their responsibility is to be willing to do what it takes to get better, for the sake of the relationship.

Most depressive episodes will last between 2 weeks to 6 months if left untreated. However, they may last up to two years or more for some patients with residual symptoms remaining. However, if proper treatment is sought, there should be some relief within a few weeks.

Depression can be considered a possibility if over a two week period or more, the person has consistently experienced five or more of the following symptoms: feeling sad and tearful, loss of interest in things that usually bring them pleasure, change in appetite (weight gain or loss), change in sleep, feelings of fatigue, lack of self worth, inability to concentrate and thoughts of death. If these behaviors are out of character for them, and their work life and social life is affected, chances are they are depressed.
It can be very difficult to date someone who is depressed and chances are, unless they get help, your relationship may have trouble getting off the ground. However, because depression affects so many people and responds so well to treatment, it should not be a deal breaker for most people. We all have strengths and weaknesses and baggage to bring to the table. With proper treatment, many people who have experienced depression go on to live completely happy fulfilling lives with real love and success. With practices like yoga, meditation, psychotherapy, and a spiritual community, many people never experience relapses.

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