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How to Support a Partner With Depression


A partner’s support plays an important role in depression treatment. If your partner struggles with depression, here are some ways you can support them.

Learn About Depression

One of the best ways to support a partner with depression is to learn about the condition. When you’re able to identify signs of depression, you’re able to ask relevant questions, like:

  • How are your energy levels?
  • Do you feel like spending time with others?
  • Can you help me understand how you’re feeling?

Ask your partner’s doctor for reputable educational sources about depression, or try starting with some online resources from mental health organizations, like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 

There are also some great online resources that go beyond the clinical indications of depression, like symptoms and treatments, and help illustrate what it’s like to live with depression. For example, an online interactive game called Depression Quest describes common thought patterns of people with depression and how they make choices regarding social and personal plans. “The spoon theory” is a great metaphor and tool for understanding what it’s like to live with depression—this infographic illustrates the spoon theory in an easy-to-understand way. 

Let Them Know You Love and Support Them, No Matter What

Many people with depression feel unworthy of love and can feel lonely. Tell your partner that you love them, wherever they’re at, and no matter what. Hearing this from a partner can evoke a sense of healing in a person who is depressed.

It’s also important to validate their feelings and focus on listening and sitting with them, rather than offering advice on how to feel better. You can show your partner that you love and support them by holding their hand, looking them in the eye, and actively listening (placing your full attention on what your partner is telling you without getting distracted) when they tell you how they feel. 

Some ways you can support your partner through their recovery include:

  • Preparing a home-cooked meal
  • Accompanying them to their appointments
  • Reminding them to take their medication
  • Encouraging them to do something they enjoy

You can also ask your partner how they would like for you to support them, and what they need from you. 

Talk to Them if You Think Their Treatment Isn’t Working

There are treatment options for depression other than medication. If your partner doesn’t see an improvement in their symptoms with antidepressants, or if symptoms appear to be getting worse, suggest that they see their doctor and consider a different treatment. 

For example, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is a non-medication, non-invasive depression therapy that has been proven to relieve depressive symptoms in people who do not respond to antidepressants. (1,2) TMS is a 9-week course of treatment with sessions that last only 20 minutes each, and it has very few and minor side effects. 

If your partner is currently not seeking treatment for depression, encourage them to do so. 

Get Support if You Need it

Supporting a partner with depression can be rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Practice self-care and get support if you need it. Ways that you can take care of yourself include:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Having a regular sleep schedule
  • Staying connected to your friends and family

If you’re feeling frustrated or upset, consider joining a support group or making an appointment with a therapist or counselor. It’s important for you to also feel supported and to have a space to work through your emotions. 


Resources:

1. O’Reardon JP, Solvason HB, Janicak PG, et al. Efficacy and safety of transcranial magnetic stimulation in the acute treatment of major depression: A multisite randomized controlled trial. Biol Psychiatry. 2007;62(11):1208-16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17573044/. Accessed June 19, 2020.2. Carpenter LL, Janicak PG, Aaronson ST, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for major depression: A multisite, naturalistic, observational study of acute treatment outcomes in clinical practice. Depress Anxiety. 2012;29(7):587-96. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22689344/. Accessed June 19, 2020.

Dr. Woo has been seeing patients in private practice since 2002, always with the goals of combining evidence-based medicine with psychodynamic psychotherapy and collaborating with other mental health professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for his patients. He has been certified to administer TMS at his practice since 2017. His greatest clinical interests include helping patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.


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