Living with a partner who has mental health struggles is tough. Living with them during a global pandemic that has forced nations into lockdown meaning that you spend 24/7 together in the same few rooms and can’t have anyone else over? Tougher than a year old Big Mac.
A lot of housemates, couples and families are spending more time together than they ever intended to, in surroundings that never change. They’re seeing each other work for perhaps the first time, and overhearing pretty much every social event, as they all take place inside and through a screen.
Finding out that your depressed loved-one is relatively chirpy with friends and colleagues can be a great discovery – maybe they’re feeling better? Maybe everything is ok now? – until you continue to receive the same level of sadness that you’ve always received, while the quips and jokes are reserved for everyone else.
It’s hard to embrace the fact that your partner might be plastering on a happy face for Zoom calls with the office and family quizzes every week, but that the face comes off when it’s just the two of you.
It’s not because they don’t respect you, or because they secretly hate you, it’s because they feel so comfortable with and trusting of you that the falseness can have a break for a while.
Depression is a bit like a huge version of having a blister during the work day or an important social event; you’ll walk around on it in pain because you have to. Maybe you’ll try and patch it up a bit, but it’s agony underneath your chirpy demeanour. Then when you get home to your own space you can finally be gross and take your shoes off and groan and grunt into the pain.
Psychologist Kate Mason has some (professional, qualified) advice: ‘The one thing I say to partners is to remember that YOU are the closest person to them, with you they can let it all out, the trust is there and so they feel safe knowing you have mutual unconditional love and will always be there for them.
‘Remind yourself that with you it’s safe for them to take off the mask (which is so exhausting to maintain) and offload to you knowing that you can contain all these overwhelming emotions.’
But containing or carrying or supporting someone else’s emotional health as well as your own is bloody difficult. If you’re being a supportive partner (yay for you) then make sure you have your own support system, whether it’s talking to friends or a therapist.
Also, as someone who’s suffered a lot with depression myself, there can be moments when you’re really not as low as you know you can get. When your partner has these times, don’t feel like you’re going to ‘ruin it’ by asking them questions about their depression – it’s actually the best time to talk about it.
‘Choose a time when they aren’t in a particularly low ebb (people with depression aren’t VERY low all of the time) and talk to them by letting them know you want to help but you don’t want to be overbearing,’ says Dr Kate Mason, clinical psychologist and founder of Roots Psychology Group.
‘Let them know you’re there for them, and ask them what would be helpful when they’re feeling very low. This way you’ll know what to do (because they’ve told you and you’ve agreed a plan) and you are letting them know that you’re there for them, they are important to you and you’ll get through this together.
‘Some partners may go quiet, in this situation don’t bombard them with “are you OK?” every ten minutes or try and force them to open up. Be honest, say how you feel – Communicate to your partner that you want to support them and you don’t know how to, and you need them to help you help them.
‘You might be in this together but ultimately the only person who can pull themselves out of depression is the individual (alongside family support) you don’t want to collude with depression by staying by your partner’s side 24/7 – it may give them the idea that they can’t cope with you and depend on you.’
Please try to not take it personally.
Depression is an illness that makes the sufferer hate themselves, and is really quite a self-involved state.
When I’m depressed I don’t think that anyone else will be bothered by it, because why would they care about me? It’s entirely likely your partner doesn’t even realise that their depression is having an impact on you – try to understand and have a chat in those slightly sunnier moments.
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
To talk about mental health in a private, judgement-free zone, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
Our Mentally Yours podcast is chatting through mental health amid the coronavirus pandemic with special dedicated episodes. You can listen on Spotify, Audioboom, and iTunes.
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