Dealing With Mental Illness In A Relationship

Annie Gurton

Couples Counsellor

Your partner may be formally diagnosed with depression or you may notice that they are exhibiting some of the signs (which do not inevitably mean depression) such as, feeling tired all the time, difficulty in concentrating, difficulty making decisions, memory problems, feeling tired and having low energy, feeling helpless and/or hopeless, sleep problems, irritability, loss of interest in usual activities and life, eating disturbances, aches and pains, sad and anxious thoughts and feelings, or thoughts of suicide. Sometimes only one or two of those manifest themselves, but the general, clingy grey cloud that descends with depression is hard to lift.

You being cheerful and optimistic isn’t enough, in fact it can drive the depressed person further down the dark tunnel. Living and supporting someone with depression takes consideration, but a partner can do a lot to alleviate the symptoms and help create a change towards good health.


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Remember that your partner is not the depression, they are only suffering from it. The depression is an illness which comes through intermittently, and has them behave in certain ways and experience specific thoughts and feelings. Separating your partner from their illness is a powerful first step. Go as far as to give it a name, and describe it. When the symptoms are worse, blame the depression not your partner.

Here are some other expert tips in combatting mental illness in the relationship:

Work as a team

To harness, manage and control the depression, whatever you call it. Have a joint plan and combined strategies. This will encourage your partner to share their down times rather than hiding them.

Look for exceptions

Notice the times when the depression is not around, and under which circumstances it is more easily controlled or excluded. Encourage those times, and have as many of them as you can.

Identify what works

Note the coping tools that work best for your partner. Everyone is different, and even one person can vary their responses to certain tools and activities. But see how your partner is after watching a movie, going for a walk, doing a joint activity, eating, resting, meditating and so forth.

Talk about it

Talk the depression as though it was a real person. Rather than ignore it, invite it into the room and have a conversation about it. Say how much you resent it, are angry towards it, and are frustrated by the power it has over you both. This helps expose it and weaken it, and helps you feel you are working as a team.

depression2Image via pinterest

Have boundaries

You may be willing to listen to your partner’s negativity for most of the time, or only occasionally, but you need to be able to say, ‘Enough! its my time now,’ and be able to leave the room, or the home, and spend time with your friends, or be on your own, without your partner feeling abandoned. Your self-care and self-respect are important factors in the road to good health, and need to be preserved.

Be receptive

When you authentically feel compassion for your partner’s situation, say so. Listen carefully without judgement and express your concern, and hopes.

Encourage intimacy

Keep communication going and make time for the relationship, even when the depression is at its strongest and your partner is most in its grip. Take every opportunity for daily hugs and hand-holding, and express your love in overt and covert ways. Cuddles and sex and very helpful at bringing you closer together in the fight against the illness, and are strengthening to you both.

Knowledge is power

find out as much as you can about attachment theory, which often underlies experiences of depression and is a frequent cause. Look back at your childhoods and see how pain and damage when you were little might be affecting you now, and what you need now to heal completely. Once healed, the depression will go.

Seek counselling

Talking therapies can be powerful for each of you separately, and as a couple. Look out for a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist who will help you to express and communicate how you are feeling, and work out personal strategies for coping and supporting. A GP may also prescribe medication, or other treatments such as ECT (electro-convulsive treatment). All have their place, but talking therapy with a skilled practitioner is often the most effective and least invasive.

For more information and to get in touch with Annie, head to



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