Divorcing Depression (cont.)
Other conditions might be accompanied by very different side effects including anxiety, excessive worry, obsessive thoughts, and an inability to concentrate. Telling your partner about the symptoms you are noticing -- instead of diagnosing them with a condition -- might get them to visit a doctor who is better equipped to point out the possibility of an underlying mental health condition.
Any Self-Medicating Happening?
Sex, alcohol, and food can all be very enjoyable parts of our lives, but they can also be used excessively to cope with depression, anxiety, or other psychological conditions. It's important to recognize when something is being used to mask a problem. If you sense that this is happening with you or your partner, don't ignore it. The consequences can be serious for the relationship and the individual. "Over time, a lot of the joy in a relationship -- the sort of juice that brought the couple together -- can dry up," Sullivan-Leggett tells WebMD. When this happens because of a psychological issue, self-medication is common, she says, and can come in the form of drugs, alcohol, television, and food. Sex too can become a form of self-medication, but often this occurs outside of the relationship, despite libido problems or a lack of sexual interest within the relationship. "Infidelity never happens in a vacuum."
Get Involved With Treatment
Hopefully once you or your partner accepts and acknowledges that there is a psychological problem worth exploring, you will seek treatment and address some of the related issues with a physician and a therapist. This doesn't have to be something that is only done individually. Totten recommends that partners stay active in each other's mental health care. "Become a partner in treatment by seeing or calling the clinician," she says. "If your husband or wife agrees to it, you can go to meetings with the clinician," she says, making it easier for you to help monitor treatments.
Totten started Families for Depression Awareness after her brother committed suicide when he was 26 years old. "He wasn't diagnosed with depression, and I was unaware of what mental illness really was at that point," she says. "I did intuitively try to help him, but it didn't work."
After helping her father get diagnosed and treated for his depression, Totten realized there was a real gap in information and support for family members to help those battling mental illness. "I really felt a need for depressive disorders to be approached as a family condition," she says. This includes understanding what they are and how they can be managed and treated.
You should immediately contact a clinician if there are any dangerous symptoms you observe, especially suicidal thoughts. The clinician won't be able to discuss your partner with you if you are calling without their consent, but you can still call with concerns about symptoms, says Totten. "The most important thing is to be a partner in treatment." But this doesn't mean you should hold yourself accountable for their diagnosis and treatment.
It's Not Your Fault
It's important that you don't take responsibility for your partner's mental health problems, even if they hold you responsible, says Sullivan-Leggett. "Don't take it on," she says. Couples coping with depression often have co-dependant relationships and systems that need to be broken. While the depressed or anxious partner might blame their partner unnecessarily for their condition, the other partner might hold themselves unnecessarily accountable. Realizing that you are not to blame will also help when it comes to treatment, because you won't mistakenly believe that you have the power to fix things.
Take Treatment Seriously
Take your mental health seriously, and seek treatment -- possibly medication and/or therapy -- as soon as possible if you think you might be suffering from depression, anxiety or another mental health condition. Would you dillydally if you suddenly became physically ill? "Take treatment seriously. Even low-grade chronic depression is serious," says Sullivan-Leggett. "It's not given much press, but life is too short and too precious to live with even a low level of chronic depression." Don't simplify the treatment either; overcoming or managing a mental health issue isn't just about popping a pill or going to a couple of therapy sessions. It's often much more time consuming and ongoing than that, but worth the rewards.
Take Care of Yourself
It's crucial that you take care of yourself if you are living with someone who has a chronic mental health condition. It's also not uncommon to develop your own psychological problems in the process, problems that should also be taken seriously and at times treated.
"A spouse should realize that this affects them," says Totten. Sheffield says often partners of people with depression feel demoralized, which mimics depression. Either way you aren't any help to anyone, or to your relationship, if you too are suffering. "Take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically," says Sullivan-Leggett. "Make time for yourself." Talking to your friends and staying connected is really important. You might even want to join a support group or seek individual counseling.
When Treatment Is Resisted
There is no doubt that relationships end and deteriorate because of mental health problems, and in some cases splitting up is the best option for both partners. Individual treatment and couples counseling can be very beneficial, but sometimes a partner won't even consider those options.
If you've tried everything and your partner still refuses treatment, something Sheffield says is common, you may need to leave the relationship. Going for a quick fix without any serious commitment to treatment can often spell trouble for you and your partner.
Remember: It's a Cycle Worth Breaking
We have to remember that mental illness, including depression and anxiety, often runs in the family. Sullivan-Leggett says it's a process that extends from generation to generation. "It moves through the family, not just genetically, but also in the soul," she says. When there is depression in the family system, there is a loyalty to carry on that family pain, and it's very difficult to break that cycle -- to break that loyalty to the pain and live without the depression, she says. This is something you should be especially aware of if you have children. "But depression is very treatable, and with treatment you can break the cycle."
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