Bond through life passages — 28 March 2004
Tips for dealing with depression

Our culture promotes youth, energy, competence and productiveness. We admire those who are self-confident, positive, enthusiastic and hopeful. Depression inhibits all these attributes.

The term depression is often misused. Some people call themselves depressed when they are disappointed, sad, tired, mildly unhappy, or hurt. Depression is actually a condition of a depressed mood that affects a person most of the day for more days than not and for an extended period of time, such as months or years. A temporary low mood about an event or situation does not qualify as depression.

People who suffer from depression exhibit changes in their mood, habits, and attitudes. The prevailing emotions are low mood, deep sadness, disinterest in life activities, apathy, and hopelessness. People, who are depressed may report changes in eating habits (either poor appetite or overeating) sleep disturbances, disinterest in sex, low energy, poor concentration, difficulties in making decisions and ineffective functioning. Their attitude is self-critical, seeing themselves as unworthy, incapable and unlovable.

Not all these symptoms need to be present to classify one as depressed. A major change in two or more of the above may be sufficient to merit a consultation with a physician or a mental health professional.

Very often it is the partner of the depressed person who is the first to identify the changes in the depressed individual. It is the partner’s role to point out his or her observation and encourage the depressed person to seek help.
Fortunately, help today is available on two fronts. Certain depressive conditions are effectively treated with psychotherapy and/or anti-depressant medications. In many cases the best treatment entails both medication and “talk therapy”.

Though the condition of depression is very prevalent (over 6% of the population are affected at some time), people still have some misconceptions and resistances to treatment.

One common myth is that the depressed individual “just needs to change her attitude” to be fine. Depression is caused by a change in the level of a hormone (seretonin) in our brains. It has nothing to do with attitude or willpower, no more than a diabetic patient could change his blood sugar level by thinking or acting differently.

Another common myth is that “my partner is depressed because he or she does not love me”. More correctly, a depressed person is not in touch with his or her loving feelings due to being despondent.

Since women in adulthood are two to three times more likely to develop depression than men, some partners assume that the mood changes may be part of women’s nature. There may be a tendency not to identify the depression correctly by attributing the symptoms to excessive emotionality.

There are still those who feel ashamed about consulting a treating-professional for a mental health issue. They fear that they will be seen as “crazy” and will be socially shunned. This is another unfortunate myth.

Other people resist taking medications for an “emotional” condition. Scientific evidence is clear today that the emotional symptoms of depression are due to hormonal changes in the brain and thus are a physical condition akin to many others.

To some, the concerns are about the changes they may experience under a “mind altering” prescription. Current medications have been greatly improved to specifically treat the symptoms of the depression and to reduce undesirable side- effects.

Depression is a condition that seriously impacts partners and their families. A depressed partner is a disconnected mate. He or she is not available to enjoy, help, participate, contribute and love.

Mates of depressed people talk of feeling alone, abandoned and lost. They do not how to “cheer” their partners and help them out of their apathy and despair. The mates feel ineffectual in helping their depressed partners. After a while, they too may get discouraged and withdraw from trying to engage their depressed spouses.

When one partner is depressed the dynamic of the whole family changes. The atmosphere is dark, gloomy, filled with fears and worries about when and how changes will occur. The low self-esteem, apathy, low energy, and sense of futility permeate the home. It requires uplifting energy to initiate change toward health. The non-depressed mate is therefore, charged with this responsibility.

If your partner is depressed:

  • Alert your mate to the changes you notice and ask for his or her experience.
  • A short term frustration, sadness or disappointment is not likely to be a depressive state.
  • Ongoing low mood, fatigue, sleeping or eating changes, poor concentration, difficulties with making decisions and hopelessness may be signs of depression.
  • Depression is a medical condition and needs to be treated as such.
  • Encourage and then insist that your depressed partner consult a physician or a mental health professional for the proper diagnosis of his or her condition.
  • Abstain from explaining away depression symptoms as evidence of character faults, gender traits, or situational variances.
  • Help your depressed partner dispel any myths she may have about the nature or treatment of depression.
  • Participate in the medical treatment and or counseling your partner chooses.
  • Stay optimistic about the positive outcome of treatment for depression. It takes time but the results are worth your patience.
  • With time and treatment, you are likely to get your wonderful partner back and resume your happy relationship.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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