Depression falls with the weight of a house, physically and mentally immobilizing its victim. It is not just pervasive sadness, it is feeling nothing. It is not the “depression” of grief which has the cathartic effect of coming to terms with the fact of our immortality. It is a complicated mix of components, neurological, environmental, and psychological.
The depressed person may sleep for 14 or more hours a day, may have no energy to eat, and have difficulty concentrating. He may feel tremendous shame for being so helpless in the face of invisible foe. That shame makes him do his best to hide his depression. He may be able to mask his depression for brief periods when around other people. This effort takes an enormous physical toll. He is a courageous person under siege.
It is not lack of willpower that keeps a depressed person trapped. In fact, some of the depressed people I know have extraordinary strength of will. They must endure both the onslaught of the depression and the criticism and lack of support from the people they love.
When family members respond with impatience and frustration, they cause even greater despair for the depressed person. It feels like being kicked when already down for the count. Making the situation worse is certainly not what they intend.
Partners can benefit from therapeutic support as much as the depressed person. Depressed emotions can be contagious and can make partners feel frustrated with their own inability to help, their own powerlessness in the face of an invisible enemy, unless they learn how to cope, how to help and when to let go.
The values that depressed people bring to their relationships are many and powerful. Living with such a debilitating illness can underscore their empathy and kindness, their humor, creativity, love and loyalty. These are people who can enhance and expand our lives.
Both the depressed and their partners need to be supported. Both need to understand that symptoms can be alleviated, that as episodes come, they will also go. They can learn to live with depression as they would with other complicated problems in life and strive for a reduction in its effects through therapy and physical self-care.
They both deserve our empathy and our support. See that they both find a therapist who understands the totality of all we know about depression, neuroscience, social factors, physical care, and can help.