Depression is a tricky subject. While there’s a growing awareness and acknowledgement of mental health issues here in the Philippines, it’s still not something everyone is comfortable discussing with others, even loved ones. We’re taking a crack at it, though, in the hope that it’ll help all the guys out there who are struggling with supporting their partners who are afflicted by this mental condition.
The World Health Organization defines depression as “a common mental disorder, characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration.” It can be long-lasting or recurrent, and can affect people of all ages, women more so than men.
In general, depression can “substantially [impair] an individual’s ability to function at work or school, or cope with daily life.” At it’s worst, it can lead to thoughts or the act of suicide. Thankfully though, while there are many distinct types of depression, most of them have readily available and effective treatments. As long as proper care and action are taken, it is definitely something you and your partner can live with successfully.
(It’s still a hard job though. But then again, all relationships are hard—that’s what makes them worth it.)
To help us out in laying down a basic breakdown of what to look out for and what to do to help out your partner, we tapped mental health awareness advocate, Dr. Kai A. De Los Reyes, for advice about loved ones dealing with depression.
Now, since we know a lot of men out there hesitate when it comes to even broaching the subject—or worse, are completely oblivious to the need of talking about it—the first thing we wanted to know was how important it is to even share this sort of personal issue with potential partners and when it should be brought up in a relationship.
The first date is neither the time nor place for that sort of discussion, Dr. De Los Reyes advised, especially if you’re not that well acquainted to begin with. It is, however, something that must be talked about when you’re already establishing a relationship, just so the situation is clear for all parties involved. Being open about mental health issues can only benefit your relationship, after all. “It's healthy to know that both of you have issues that you can help each other with or if you have moments when you need to steer clear from each other because you will have conflicts.”
But depression can emerge at any point in a person’s life, so just because your partner didn’t tell you about a pre-existing problem at the start of your relationship doesn’t mean that it may never come into play. So try to always be aware of your significant other’s mental state, and be on the lookout for early indicators of depression such as a persistently low mood and a loss of interest in things that were previously enjoyed. And remember, whether or not a professional diagnosis is given, you should never hesitate to show your concern and support them through their problems.
“You don't need to label someone with depression to acknowledge when someone has been feeling down, disinterested, unmotivated, has been left sleepless because of constantly mulling over problems, refuses to eat, and is more irritable than usual, [nor] to reckon that the situation of that person may stem from feeling worthless,” warns De Los Reyes, adding that if those conditions are observed, there may be a serious need to find professional help.
While you should also definitely be prepared to provide a solid support system for your loved one, though, you shouldn’t let yourself become an enabler. Instead of letting them stay in a rut, do your best to remind them that they are capable human beings who are not ruled by their disorders.
At the heart of it all, every relationship is founded on love and care, and mental health problems should not change that. “We ought to treat our loved ones with depression the same way we should treat all of our loved ones," explains De Los Reyes, "and that's with respect, courtesy, and compassion.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be considerate about their issues. Here are some things you can do to help out your partner, according to our mental health awareness advocate:
When they’re feeling down, respond in a way that fits the dynamics of your relationship. Will they feel better after venting? Then let them. Are they more the quiet type? Then give them some space and the assurance of a shoulder to cry on when they need it.
Be prepared to listen without judgement but also exercise tough love.
Your loved one might complain a lot and be irritable because of their condition. Instead of just taking the hits, help your partner redirect their frustrations on the things that are really bothering them so you can address them together.
Aid them in realizing that they have to help themselves if they want to get better.
At the end of the day, the choice is up to them. You can still do your best to be a good listener and a comforting presence, just don’t forget yourself since there’s such a thing as caregiver burnout, too.
Be less demanding and more understanding.
This one goes for both parties. Navigating the pitfalls of depression is a struggle for everyone involved, so make sure you’re not pushing each other too hard.
Remind them that they are more than just their bad days.
Mental health is an integral part of every individual, and depression can loom over and affect a person’s life in a way those who are free of it simply can't understand. But always remember—and make sure your partner remembers as well—that this condition does not define them, so don’t let it define your relationship, either.
Seek professional help when push comes to shove.
Sometimes, your support is not enough; don’t let societal stigma stop you from turning to others for help. Your partner may need treatment and medication that you’re simply not equipped (or qualified) to give.