By Frank Spinelli, M D
Originally published on Advocate.com November 10 2010 12:00 PM ET
When someone you know or love is depressed, it affects you as well. Eric and his partner, Richard, both lost their jobs one year ago. Eric began freelancing, but his partner could not find work. After several months, Eric came to see me with concerns that his partner had sunk into depression. He said that Richard rarely left the house, and whenever he returned home from work, Richard was on the Internet. He was also concerned that Richard had lost a considerable amount of weight. Every time Eric tried to initiate a conversation with Richard, he became outraged and claimed Eric was attacking him for not working.
Day-to-day interactions with someone who is chronically depressed can affect your relationship. It can create animosity and distance. Often you may even become depressed yourself. Signs that your loved one might be depressed include a downbeat mood, irritability, poor hygiene, and irregular sleep habits.
When Richard became ill, Eric convinced him to make an appointment with me. I diagnosed him with a sexually transmitted disease. At that time, I took the opportunity to ask him how he was coping with losing his job. He admitted that he was depressed and was often online in chat rooms or having sex with other men while Eric was at work. Ashamed, he kept this a secret. Eventually, he started using crystal. I urged Richard to confide in Eric. Richard agreed, and now they are in couples counseling.
It’s important to understand that when someone is depressed they need to feel supported. The depression is the problem, not them. However, not all partners are as understanding as Eric. Oftentimes, partners minimize their loved one’s situation, saying things like “Everyone gets depressed” or “I know how you feel.” Statements such as these have the potential to inflame an already difficult situation. It’s best to listen and offer your help. Also, try to enlist your partner in recovery activities that you can do together. Ask him or her to participate not only in counseling but in reading about recovery or something as simple as taking part in an activity together like exercising or taking a walk.
Remember, when someone you love is depressed it affects both of you. I encourage you to open up a dialogue that unites the two of you as a team. Try to maintain structure and keep to your routine. This will ensure a safe environment for you and your loved one. And if you find yourselves in over your head, seek help from a professional counselor.