For the more than 300,000 million people living with depression, day-to-day life can feel like a personal hell. During their ongoing fight for inner peace, many of their significant others suffer in silence because they simply don’t know how to handle being with someone who is depressed. It’s certainly understandable; relationships are complex enough, but being involved with someone who suffers from a mental illness demands an extra dose of compassion, caution, and awareness.
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Due to the fact that anxiety and depression can present in many forms, being aware of warning signs that your partner may be on a downward mental spiral is crucial. According to The Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of depression include: feelings of sadness, hopelessness or emptiness; insomnia or excessive sleeping; lack of energy; feelings of worthlessness; reduced appetite or weight loss; and frequent thoughts of death or suicide, as well as suicide attempts. Bear in mind that an individual suffering with depression may not be able or willing to vocalize exactly what’s affecting them, so be proactive by learning to recognize subtle or major shifts in your partner’s behavior that typically accompany their depressive episodes. While not everyone who deals with depression experiences suicidal thoughts, it is still critical to keep the individual in a safe environment. In the event that your partner expresses suicidal thoughts or attempts to harm themselves, take them to a psychiatric hospital or an emergency room. Suicide.org recommends remaining with the person, staying calm, discussing suicide openly and immediately contacting a qualified mental health professional via the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, which provides free, round-the-clock prevention and crisis support.
Many mental health organizations also recommend calling 911 if an individual is suicidal, however a 2015 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center found that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement, a sobering statistic that supports the growing belief that police are generally incapable of providing mental health support during emergencies.
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Despite the plethora of studies, research and general information that legitimizes depression as a mental disorder – one that Black women experience at a higher rate than the rest of the population – there still exists a misconception within our communities that it is nothing more than an extreme bout of the blues to be “fixed” with a combination of prayer and a strong bootstraps mentality. However, minimizing or outright dismissing your partner’s depression should never be an option. Instead, openly acknowledge their depression and be willing to provide whatever assistance you can for them, whether it’s something as simple as reminding them to eat regularly or a helping them find a therapist.
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Inquire about what could make your partner feel better or asking which tasks they might need help with like refilling or changing a prescription for anti-depressants, reaching out to their therapist or even driving, advises Psych Central. This opens up an avenue of a non-judgmental communication that prevents you making assumptions about their condition or inadvertently blaming them for their illness.
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Although certain lifestyle changes have proven effective in helping to manage it, there is no cure for depression, which is why it’s important to encourage your partner (as gently as possible) to seek some form of treatment from a certified professional who can effectively help them navigate the illness.
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Loving someone with depression can be extremely stressful; however, the biggest favor you can do for a partner living with depression is to keep a close eye on your own mental health. If you find yourself buckling under the weight of your partner’s ailment, don’t hesitate to seek professional help for yourself. Groups like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provide support for loved ones of people living with mental illnesses. Do whatever it takes to equip yourself with the necessary tools to stay strong, stable and healthy, which will serve you well in helping your partner survive the fight of a lifetime.
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