It’s one thing to be depressed yourself.
Or anxious. Or not sleeping.
At least you can do something about that.
What if it’s the person you are sharing your life with?
What if life has suddenly, or not so suddenly, become overwhelming for them? They are disappearing, right before your eyes. Sinking into some hole, their eyes beginning to look empty.
You can’t say anything right. Everything you do irritates them. They are drinking too much. Or getting up in the middle of the night, not coming back to bed.
Sex never happens.
Maybe finances are tight. A parent has died. Job stress is up. Kids are having trouble.
Or maybe nothing has happened.
Maybe life just seems to be getting smaller. Or less fulfilling. People are disappointing.
What are you supposed to do?
1) Realize you can’t fix it.
It’s not your depression. It’s not your anxiety. You are not causing it so you can’t fix it.
That’s the first and perhaps most important realization.
They might say angrily that you are the cause but that is highly unlikely. There might be things in the relationship that your partner is not talking about that he/she is unhappy about, but they need to come forward and discuss that thing. That doesn’t mean that this mood state is your responsibility.
2) Talk about what it’s like for you to watch them go through this.
Say things like, “It’s sad for me to see you not enjoy what you do anymore”. “I miss you and can see that you are really uptight all the time”.
And then quit. Don’t offer suggestions unless they ask for them. Don’t make appointments for them. They have to want to get help.
3) Gently support every positive effort they make toward getting better.
If they decide to take a walk, encourage them or go with them. Get them to take the dog (if they like the dog…). If they ask for suggestions, give them. “Janie’s husband took some medication that really helped him… would you like the name of his doctor?“. Or “I’ve heard exercise really helps. There’s a new gym without a membership fee.”
Just don’t push. Don’t call Janie and have them show up on your doorstep.
People who are struggling with depression and anxiety are self-conscious. They know that they are not functioning well and isolate because of it. They don’t want people to see them “not at their best”. They might be able to put on some face for work but the minute they hit the door afterward, it falls off.
They let you see the reality of who they are because – well – you are you.
4) Know there is a line that they should not cross.
With all of that said, one family members’ illness should not ruin an entire family’s functioning. For example, a mother should not force her children to take their school clothes off immediately after school for fear of contamination. Or make them fall to the floor to hide because someone has knocked on the front door. (Real case examples.)
If the illness is sabotaging normalcy in the family, then confrontation and intervention by family members is justified.
It is not easy. If someone has talked about suicide, obviously the risks are greater. Involving someone objective is helpful. A medical doctor, a pastor or a good friend who is educated or has had experience with mental illness or an actual mental health professional are all available choices.
Most people will respond. But some will not.
If they don’t, you have other decisions to make.
The good news is that there is treatment for anxiety and depression! You don’t have watch your loved one stay stuck.
Time may heal some of it.
Reaching out for help can work wonders.
This post is in response to a question from a reader who is very much in love with someone who is depressed and anxious, and trying to stay in that relationship. It happens! I thank her for her question, and welcome all other ideas. Just privately email me at askdrmargaret@