Ways we can cope with depression in a relationship

10 March 2017

Depression affects one in five people in the UK and is an illness that, thankfully, people are beginning to understand better as awareness grows.

Less understood, however, are the ways in which depression can affect relationships and how our relationships can help us manage depression.

How relationships can affect depression

Strong and healthy relationships have the potential to help us cope with the symptoms of depression – and, in some circumstances, can be a big influence on whether a person becomes depressed.

They give us a support network – people to talk to and loved ones we can rely on when things are difficult. They can help us to maintain perspective and just generally feel less alone. Research on what matters most to our well-being show that relationships with friends and family are top of the list.

Conversely, evidence suggests that people in troubled relationships are three times as likely to experience depression as those who aren’t. Unhappy or unsupportive relationships are a risk factor for depression. Some studies have found that more than 60% of those with depression consider relationship problems to be the main cause of their illness.

How depression can affect relationships

Depression can make it difficult to maintain supportive and fulfilling relationships.

If your partner is suffering from depression, they may be so overwhelmed by their symptoms that finding the energy to communicate feels impossible.

As a partner or family member, it can be easy to find this really draining and upsetting. You might become exhausted with the effort of feeling you need to support your partner and also keeping up with running the home or looking after the rest of the family.

And in turn, the person with depression may begin to feel like a burden – as though they’re simply getting in the way and making the lives of those around them worse. They may be aware of the effects their depression is having on their relationships, but feel powerless to do anything about it. This can make them feel guilty, and lower their self-esteem even more.

How can counselling help?

We see a lot of couples affected by depression. While Relate counselling is not a treatment by itself, it can help to work with someone who understands how depression can impact on a relationship.

A counsellor can help you begin to unpick what’s happening so you can get a better grip of the situation and how you might begin to address it. We help you feel everything isn’t hopeless – that, actually, there are ways of managing what’s happening.

Here are some of the techniques we use:

  • Open communication This is something we encourage in any form of counselling, but it can be particularly important when it comes to depression. The kind of pressure that mental health issues can place on a relationship can be eased by talking openly and honestly about what each person is finding difficult. The counsellor will enable this process, making sure that each partner is able to speak and be heard.
  • Externalising This means detaching the condition from the person so you’re able to see the depression as the problem, not the person suffering from it. This could even mean giving it a name or referring to it in the third person. The idea is to help the person with depression see it as a separate entity, rather than being part of their personality.
  • Breaking down the details This means identifying the exact nature of the depression so we can see if there are any triggers and get a better idea of its severity. Lots of people come into counselling feeling as though depression affects them all the time, but when you look at things in more detail, they begin to realise there are times when it’s not such an issue, or that there are times when it’s particularly bad. Acknowledging what might be contributing to the depression and whether there are any specific sources of stress can be useful.
  • Making a timeline together This is where we look at positive and negative events throughout the relationship. This helps to pinpoint when the depression first intruded itself into the relationship, and looks at what else was happening around that time. Depression can often be linked to a loss of some kind (death or separation from a loved one, loss of identity, loss of job/status, loss of health/mobility, loss of purpose). Doing a timeline can also give each partner a better idea of how the other is feeling. We often find that some events feel more or less significant to one partner than the other.
    If you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors about how depression is affecting your relationship give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350 or email appointments@relatebedsandluton.org.uk

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