Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

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September 8th, 2008

Dealing With a Loved One Who’s Depressed

BustedHalo readers weigh in

 
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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

As the loved one supporting someone with depression, pray for them—and tell them that they are in your thoughts. “Prayer is lifting your heart and mind to God” says Dr. Janus, “and if your heart and mind are laden with sadness and anger and distraction, well that is what you have to give to God at that moment.”

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:

Are You Depressed?

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.”

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The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Anita Booker

    lq9kn5etxrd87kkf

  • Stephanie Burton

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. THANK YOU!

  • Bill

    I think this is excellent advice. I know that support is key to recovery. I would also encourage therapy.

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