Loving Someone With Depression: How to Cope

I’ve never been depressed. I’ve had my share of crazy, and sure, I have my bad times. I have those times where I start crying while brushing my teeth, and I’m not sure why. We’ve all experienced this to an extent. You go through a patch where staying in bed all day isn’t just the better option- it’s the only one. But as blue as things may look at that point, a lot of us are lucky enough to have the ability to say “I’m feeling depressed,” as opposed to “I have depression.”

There’s a big difference between those statements, and the key word is feeling.

Like I said, I’ve never been depressed. But I know a lot about depression. Over the past few years, someone very close to me who I love dearly became depressed. And I had no idea what I was getting into.

Let’s call my friend Hubert. Why? Because Hubert is a funny name, and nothing about this situation is funny.

Hubert went through some life changes. Some things turned out less than desirable for him, but all in all, Hubert would agree that nothing terrible happened to him. This is a common misconception about depression- you don’t have to have a traumatic home life or a horrible experience or a death of a loved one to become depressed. Depression has no rhyme or reason. It just happens.

I didn’t understand this at the time. I found myself wondering at times why Hubert was taking things so hard. “He can get past this,” I thought to myself, “all he has to do is just try.”

But he couldn’t. Because despite the fact that Hubert’s life mantra is “I can do anything if I try,” he couldn’t bring himself to. He couldn’t even bring himself to care. He couldn’t even try to try.

You know those commercials for the antidepressant, and the tagline is “depression hurts more than just you” or “depression hurts everyone” or something like that? It’s true. Loving someone with depression is almost as hard as having depression.

We’re not inside their heads. We can’t understand why they are doing the things they are doing. We can’t understand why they won’t listen to reason, and they don’t have the ability to articulate why.

It took a long time, but I finally figured some of it out. Strangely enough, a webcomic put a lot of things into perspective for me. It was hard, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but as hard as it is, your loved one needs you. And when you’re through the thick of it, your acceptance and help through that time will mean more to them than you will ever understand.  Here are some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

1. Your loved one isn’t depressed or sad.

Depression isn’t a state of being, it’s an affliction. Like a cold or the flu, it can come out of nowhere and hit them. Or think of it another way: your friend is in an abusive relationship with depression. Depression has cut off their ability to have other friends. Depression has crippled their social life. Depression is constantly putting them through hell, making everything more stressful, making them doubt themselves, making everything difficult. Depression has beaten them- to the point where they will have actual physical pain. Depression has taken control of their life, to the point where it’s easier to just feel nothing.

2. They’re not depressed because of you, so don’t take it personally.

It’s hard not to take things personally. It’s even harder to not wonder if you did something to make your loved one depressed. When you’re depressed, you feel this complete and utter inability to be yourself, and it makes it ten times harder when you’re around loved ones; ie. people who know the real “you.” Being with strangers can sometimes be easier for them: they get to put on a show. They get to pretend that they aren’t depressed for a short amount of time. It can really hurt you to see this, and you sometimes wonder if it’s just you causing the depression. But it’s not. If your loved one is acting depressed around you, its a good sign- in a strange way. It means that they love and trust you enough to share this with you. Sometimes they try to hide it- sometimes they’ll push you away. The only thing to do is just be there.

3. You can’t “fix” them.

I know you think that by being positive and following them around like their personal cheerleader, one day it might occur to them “yeah! life is great and things are awesome and I’m fixed!” But it won’t. Endless supplies of positivity aren’t helpful- they actually do more harm than good. It’s frustrating. It’s reminding them that they aren’t full of cheer. And most importantly, they aren’t sad. I know it looks like they are, and sometimes they can feel incredibly down, but cheering up won’t help. They’re experiencing a complete lack of emotion, and you can’t fix something that doesn’t exist. All the funny animal gifs in the world aren’t going to cure them. Just be there. Remind them that this is temporary. Don’t tell them to keep trying, just remind them that there’s a light out there. Listen and validate their feelings, but don’t try to explain them or cheer the person up. Don’t offer opinions or advice. You don’t have to walk around like a complete sad sack, of course- that won’t help. Just be normal, but be supportive.

4. Any emotion is good.

Sometimes when people start the long, long climb up out of depression, their emotions come back to them in weird ways. Some people get the crying, the breaking down and sobbing. Feel free to comfort them. Some people get the manic happiness that seems incredibly fake. Encourage this- but be careful. It can switch quickly. But a lot of people get the anger. Anger, for some unknown reason, seems to be the easiest way to vent the months and months of non-feeling that your loved one has gone through. So be prepared. They will get angry at you. They will scream at the cat and curse out their shoe. The strangest and sometimes smallest things will set them off. I know that this hurts more than anything, and it seems so backwards. But by getting angry, they finally have a way to vent their frustration. Encourage it, or at the very least, let them rage in peace.

5. Take care of yourself.

Your first thought will be to take care of your loved one- but loving someone with depression can seriously mess you up as well. You feel like you need to be in it with them, but you don’t. You need to take care of yourself- keep focusing on your goals and dreams. Sometimes you will feel like a horrible person bragging about your new promotion or going out with friends. You feel like you should hide it from your loved one, or downplay your accomplishments, because it seems like a smack in the face to them. But, I can’t stress this enough, don’t. They will still be happy for you. Your success and happiness might remind them of what they’re lacking, but you cannot sacrifice yourself. You need to go out and be with friends. You need to get fresh air.

In addition, sometimes you’re going to cry. Sometimes you’re going to hurt. Sometimes you won’t be able to handle it, and you feel like you need to hide it from your loved one. Don’t. Express to them that this is hard, but you’re in it with them. Don’t tell them that you cried yourself to sleep, but open up a bit. Find a healthy way to get the stress out- even if it’s ranting to your dog.

6. Be patient.

Depression sucks. Literally. It sucks the life out of everything, and you need to be careful to not let it suck the life out of you. Read about it, find out about it- it’s amazing how ignorant and misinformed we are about depression.

Check out this wonderful explanation of depression by Hyperbole-and-a-half.

Hope Racine
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Hope Racine

Associate Editor at Literally, Darling
Hope is a freelance writer and editor who makes her living writing things about Jane Austen and editing things about taxes. She has an unhealthy relationship with George Washington. Hope is currently working toward her life goal of being on Jeopardy! and owning all the dogs.
Hope Racine
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  • Madeline

    Great article!
    I would consider tweaking the second sentence a little bit, though, as “crazy” is sometimes considered a derogatory term for people who suffer from mental illness.

  • Melissa

    I love this, Hope. Spot on.

  • Shanice

    This is such a good subject to expose, so many people think that depression is just a phase but for some people it’s really unbearable pain. I feel bad for those people who can never make it out of their depressed state.

  • Ryan

    Thank you for this article. As a longtime sufferer of depression I have enough difficulty understanding myself, that you can explain my own suffering better than I is a testament to you and your friend is incredibly lucky to have you in their life.
    The Hyperbole and a Half comic you linked was also eye-opening for me and made me laugh for once at my suffering (in a good way!).

    Earlier today I actually made a post on Reddit /r/depression (http://www.reddit.com/r/depression/comments/1fsnl5/do_you_talk_about_your_depression_with_friends/) about talking to loved ones about depression.
    Although there were only a few responses, a recurring answer seemed to be that people didn’t take the sufferer’s depression seriously/dismissed it or would become tired of having to deal with a sufferer of depression because they felt there was only so much they could do.

    I actually think the information you have compiled here is potentially very useful for a lot of sufferers and their loved ones. I had always considered my battle with depression as a solitary struggle, thinking it pointless to talk about because I would inevitably just end up alienating the people I confided in. You have given me a little hope and more food for thought.

    Thank you very much. And a massive pat on the back for you for being such a patient and conscientious friend.

    • Hope

      Thank you so much for reading Ryan! While I haven’t even begun to completely figure all this out, I’m so glad that to hear that my article struck a chord with people. Maybe it’s easier to figure things out and see them clearly when you’re not in the thick of it: I think this is especially true with depression. Thank you for reading, and I really hope it helped a little!

  • Holly

    Thank you for this. I went down this list and I could tick things off.. yes this is happening, and yes that is what i’m trying to do about it.
    Sometimes I feel selfish for letting my loved ones depression get me down – I’m not the one who’s depressed so sometimes I feel like I have a responsibility to be 100% strong and happy. I don’t think I’m coping very well right now. It’s nice to hear someone else say that sometimes you can’t cope and that loving someone who is depressed is almost as bad as being depressed. I don’t want to say those things out loud to myself, but I know that’s how I feel. So thank you for saying it for me and showing me I’m feeling things that are normal to feel in my situation.
    The person I love who is depressed isn’t getting better yet, so the anger bit scares me. I take things personally, even when I know it’s not personal and I shouldn’t. I don’t know how I’ll cope with that part. I hate not seeing an end to it, I hate feeling like this, and I hate feeling selfish for feeling sad. I’m so scared I’m going to get dragged under into the waves of depression too. I feel like I’m heading that way. I don’t eat properly. I don’t sleep properly. I feel trapped and I can’t see a way out.
    But thank you.

    • Anon

      Holly, you just described exactly how I am feeling right now and it made me burst into tears to know I’m not alone. . So many hugs.

      • Holly

        I’m glad. Hugs to you too x

  • Lynn

    Wonderful article. Very inspiring and gave me great insight to my situation. My boyfriend is currently suffering from depression and lately I have begun to feel as if I’m on an emotional roller coaster. At times he pulls me close and then pushes me away with no warning. I want to respect his space but sometimes I’m not sure how he is feeling. Thank you for this article. Have you written any others?

  • M

    Depression does not develop without “rhyme or reason”. It is a biologically based disorder influenced by both genetics and one’s environment. Depression also does not always “come out of nowhere”. There are specific risk factors that may indicate someone may be in danger of developing depression, or may be on the edge of entering a phase of worsening symptoms. People who suffer from depression are NOT experiencing a complete lack of emotion.

    It is wonderful you are writing with the intent to help people better understand mental illness and how to help loved ones with the disorder, but before you publish a piece claiming to give advice as to how to help support with people with people with depression (the strongest risk factor for suicide), I would suggest you do some meaningful and accurate research. And emphasize that while most people, especially a significant other, may not be able to actively do much to alleviate their symptoms (although they are definitely some things you can do), there are people who can help. They are psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. Encouraging loved ones experiencing symptoms of depression to get professional help is the best thing you can do for them, besides love them. Depression is a disease like any other medical condition, and should be treated as such.

    Again, I think it is great to write with the intent to eradicate the stigma of mental illness and start to debunk major myths. But writing about such a serious topic requires much more expertise than shown here before you start handing out advice.

    • jess

      Some people do not wish to do and seek professional help. And a lot of the professional help out there currently tend to enjoy throwing medication at their patients which isn’t always the answer.

      • jess

        Some people do not wish to seek***

  • Meg

    This is very well-written and pretty point-on.

  • Obnxs1

    Wow… Sent to this for Bring Change 2 Mind and this is dead on.

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  • Dylan G

    Thank you so much Hope, this is such a timely article for me to read.
    I’ve been in a relationship with someone for several months, who is suffering from severe depression and anxiety issues and it’s been devastating to watch her suffer. I often feel helpless and sometimes wonder if I’ve done something wrong to make her feel this way. It has been so difficult, but I’ve been hanging on to our relationship, because I care for her deeply. Lately it has gotten tough though, and I’m questioning whether it’s all worth it. I’ve developed insomnia and an anxiety-related skin disorder, because I’m so stressed about the roller-coaster of emotions I have to endure.
    As tough as it has been for me, I can’t imagine what she’s going through, and this thought alone, helps me to rationalize her irregular behavior. I also realize that among the darkest days with her, there are sometimes amazing days too and I should cherish them.
    The whole paragraph “2. They’re not depressed because of you, so don’t take it personally.” made me (uncharacteristically) burst into tears, because it articulated my biggest anxiety of this whole situation and reassured me.
    Thank you.

  • Kiera

    thank you so much for this article, everything is explained and described so perfectly. i’ve been in a relationship for the past seven months, and for five of which, everything was perfect. two months ago things got bad but articles and discussions like this have helped me unbelievable amounts, mostly in helping me to remember that i’m not the only one caring for a loved one and all we can do is show love and support. thank you!

  • Jess

    This is fantastic. I really enjoyed reading this article. Thank you Hope :)

  • Benita

    Amazing article , really helped me a lot as I am loving my best friend who’s going through depression at the moment but does not know it himself so clearly . Since a few days I had been going crazy about what to do what not to do , what to say to him what not to say to him because he does not know I’m madly in love with him and I wont tell him cause he has a girlfriend and I can not risk losing him . This article gave me so much hope and inspiration to stay strong and be patient with him . May God bless you :)

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  • Melissa D

    Hi. This is a great article
    I have a number of questions that I think you could help me with. But I was wondering if I could communicate with you privately, through email or something.
    I am dating a depressed man and I desperately need help trying to control my own emotions and think positive.
    I hope you can help me

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  • P.A Wilson

    I just wanted to say how incredibly insightful this arcticle is, I’m trying desperately to help my boyfriend and parents understand depression, and how what they say doesn’t always help. I’ve sent them this and printed it out and stuck it on my fridge. Thankyou so much, where I live in England it’s hard to find the opportunities to write professionally. I would love to be a writer one day, and not just a silly waitress with a head full of unreachable fantasies. You have inspired me. Thankyou so much x

  • GrayVisitor

    Thank you. This is spot on how it is. This is reassuring.

  • Ryan

    Dear Hope, thank you so much for this post. My gf suffers from severe depression and bipolar disorder. Often I find myself feeling guilty about not being able to help her in any way and my life has literally stopped so that I can be with her always. I feel like a lousy partner if I ever left her alone. It has affected my work and relationship witth others. But despite ‘being there’ she always says that I’m not and that I’m not supportive. When asked how I can be supportive, she tells me to figure it out myself. I’ve tried so many things which just makes her push me away even more. She wont tell me what she wants or what she needs. Just tells me that I dont know how to be with her and that Im not the right one for her.

    This post helped me feel that I’m not alone in this and that it’s normal for me to feel upset which I often feel but have never expressed to anyone and especially not her for fear that she will think I’m selfish. I wish I could find a way to reach out to her better and help her.

    Hope, I would be grateful if I could seek more guidance from you based on your experience. I dont know who else I can turn to before it’s too late. Thank you again for your words.

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  • Depression is a disease like any other medical condition, this disease should be treated with professional help.

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  • Sue

    Hi just found out about this recently and it’s really hard handling my depressed boyfriend. Just wanna have some motivation, they do get better eventually right?

    • olya zhuk

      No.. it doesn’t. Somedays will be good. Somedays he will just have a meltdown. It’s a constant fight. I’m currently working on not letting it hurt my life cuz it does.

  • Tanya

    My fiancé has had depression for 2 years now – and to say it is a struggle is a tremendous understatement. So I often search the net for some advice or people going through the same situation so I don’t feel so alone and helpless. Here’s what I found: there are countless sites devoted to the depressed individual. All offering great practical advice in trying to overcome it. But very few exist for people like us – and those that do, even though they are designed to help those living with people with depression – almost always end up focusing on the depressed person. So when I found this entry, I was pleasantly surprised. You really have been there. I related to almost every word. I still struggle a bit with the advice of “supporting” your loved one instead of telling them what to do. As I have done just that for 2 years. And today he didn’t get out of bed for the 4th day in a row. I think there comes a point where “tough love” needs to be considered. I know you can’t make people feel, but you can certainly make them get out of bed and go through the motions. Is that so bad? Who knows – they might even experience something good while doing it? Like, maybe they are taking out the trash and see a Blue Jay that they want to take a pic of? Has anyone tried a bit of tough love and been successful?

  • Ahlexx

    I’ve been with my boyfriend for 5 years. In these past years we found out he had chrons disease, depression, anxiety and I believe he’s bipolar. Well I was only 17 when we got together. But 23 years old and I’m still confused, you say don’t take it personal but how else are you supposed to feel? I’ve been by his side, from trying to OD the day after my birthday, Trying to commit suicide while on the phone with him. Moving in with him at his grandma’s house and him getting so mad that I moved in. I’ve never given up on him, he’s lived with me and my family for a month , saved him from his dad. I’ve been there but is it me causing him pain? I love him and I’m to the point from no return. Maybe its effecting my life more than I notice. I’m always worried about him. I’ve missed work to stay home and watch him. He ignores me all the time. He recently started to get better, and I forgot he had depression. Then one night I told him something I shouldn’t of said . And now he’s saying he’s relapsing. I’m so scared to lose him. I need him . I just don’t know how to feel anymore. Because if its as bad as I think it is the end is coming soon and he might really hurt himself this time . Help me

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