In my last column I shared a letter from Susan, a longtime reader of Pure Sex, Pure Love, who has been dating a man struggling with depression. “How do you deal with a partner who’s dealing with depression? Can you help—and if so, how?” I asked BustedHalo readers to weigh in on this email, and dozens of you responded.
Nearly 60% of respondents said that, like Susan, they have been in a relationship with someone suffering from depression, and 75% of respondents said Susan should continue her relationship. Many offered first-hand advice.
Lynn, 25, has been dating a man with depression for four years, and has dealt with the illness first hand herself. “It makes a relationship 10 times harder. There were nights I would lay with him holding him for hours while he sobbed and cried,” she said. “It takes an emotional toll on you. It helps having supportive people in your life who never say it will be
OK but just lend a hand. Hugs are the best medicine.” She also said laughter about something—even little things—each day has helped her get through tough times and make the most of every happy moment.
Her advice for Susan? “Keep communication open and be patient. Getting outside into sunlight helps a lot, too. And find a friend or family member to talk to when things get really difficult.”
I recognized Susan’s question as important, and then to read so many powerful comments as readers shared similar stories and concerns further convinced me that this was a topic on the minds of many young adults. But I’m not a psychologist, so to answer Susan’s questions I reached out to two Catholic experts on depression: The Very Rev. Mark-David Janus, C.S.P, Ph.D., a Paulist priest and clinical psychologist at the Cathedral of St. Andrew, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Sr. Kathryn James, fsp, a Pauline nun and author of Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach. Let’s take it step by step.
What is Depression?
Some people experience a short-term depression because of a specific event—a trauma, a tragedy—in their lives. Others struggle with clinical depression, a longer-lasting underlying illness. The first thing to remember about depression is that it’s a biological illness—and not something that your loved one can just snap out of any more than they could snap out of diabetes, says Dr. Janus. You can’t cheer someone up with depression or make it go away, but “you can help them seek treatment and support them as they struggle to cope with their illness.”
Depression affects people differently, says Dr. Janus, but some of the common reactions that people with depression experience include:
If you think you might be struggling with depression, seek out a professional for a consultation. Your general-practice physician can be a good first resource, or a priest or counselor. You aren’t a bad or weak person: Depression is very common – and very treatable. Click here to find resources in your community.
Also: Check out Beyond Blue, the popular BeliefNet blog by Therese Borchard about depression, anxiety and faith.
• an inability to enjoy life as they once used to
• lack of energy
• inability to concentrate and organize
• lack of self esteem and initiative
• difficulty feeling love and expressing love
• difficulty being sexually responsive
• a proclivity to blame themselves for things that go wrong
• irritability (and for younger adult men, anger is more noticeable than sadness)
“If you are dating or married to someone who is depressed and suffering with these symptoms, what is critical to remember is that they are symptoms of depression, not dimensions of your loved one’s personality or character. Just as measles have spots as the external symptom of an interior disease process, so too are these symptoms of depression the external symptom of an interior disease process. They do not define the person who suffers from depression,” Dr. Janus says.
Knowing the Signs
Elmo, 38, has experienced these symptoms first hand. His wife is manic-depressive and he says their relationship hasn’t always been easy. “Knowing the signs is key and encouraging therapy and meds is very important.” He recommends prayer groups and retreats as a couple, plus spiritual direction for both the person suffering from the illness and the spouse who is supporting them.
“Understanding how the brain works is very important and realizing that their withdrawal often has nothing to do with you,” Elmo continued, describing times in which he had to alert his wife to signs that the depression was imminent and that she should see her counselor.
His advice to Susan? Patience. “John is the only one who can help John. So she needs to realize that she cannot change the way his brain chemicals mix. If John is not willing to seek help, then she might consider a new relationship.”