The lessons you learn when your partner has depression

Nothing helps more than letting them know they mean something


Often people claim to know what depression is without fully understanding it, and that’s why we’re so quick to trivialise it.

As part of Depression Awareness Week, I decided to write an article about how being in a relationship with someone who suffers from depression has informed me about the disorder.

I was further motivated when I was brought to the attention of the #whatyoudontsee movement on Twitter – the behaviours and moods described looked familiar to me after a year and a half in my relationship.

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Picture: Takumi Yoshida

The #whatyoudontsee hashtag speaks to the way depression is frequently trivialised due to the misconceptions that come with it – the most common of these being that if a person is depressed, they have to somehow exhibit this depression in front of others in order to legitimise their diagnosis.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Some (by no means all) depressed people could not want to reach out for help less. If they did that, they’d merely feel like a burden to whoever they sought for help, and being a burden is just another reason for them to feel like they’re a useless person.

This is why it’s paramount that if someone you know and care for has depression, you make sure they know that they mean something to you and to the world.

One of the tweets read: “People don’t ‘look’ depressed because depression isn’t a facial expression.” This is a fundamental truth about having depression: anyone around you could suffer from it and it would be extremely difficult to know from even talking to someone at length.

Depressed people often expend the majority of their physical and mental strength just trying to make it through the day and trying to seem normal, while anticipating the worst case scenario for every possible social encounter or task.

How easy is it for you to go into a lecture? Imagine a class where you’re too afraid to say anything because if you do it would attract the attention of twelve pairs of eyes at the same time.

My girlfriend informed me she was throwing up before her contact hours at the beginning of first year. I don’t intend to claim that I’ve cured her, but she attributes much of her improvement in social situations to being around me – which is testimony to the importance of reassuring people that help is willingly and readily there for them.

Furthermore, what has really been put into perspective is another aspect of trivialising depression which before my relationship seemed inconsiderate, and after it seemed downright offensive: when people claim to suffer depression in order to gain some sort of mitigating circumstance or benefit from it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with someone saying after a tough week that they feel depressed. That’s OK, we’re all entitled to a low ebb on occasion in our lives and to vocalise about it. If anything, it helps from time to time.

What I cannot abide, and what nobody should abide, is the false appropriation of resources that could help someone who genuinely needed them to help them from possibly killing themselves by someone who is claiming that their late work is from “depression” and not from going out five nights a week or procrastinating too much.

If this sounds specific it’s because my girlfriend and I got to sit down in front of someone at a social occasion and watch them talk somewhat smugly about how they had managed to obtain mitigating circumstances by doing just that.

This person was blissfully unaware of my girlfriend’s condition, so they weren’t being intentionally malicious. However, they showed an utter obliviousness to the realities of suffering from depression, while my girlfriend tries to do as much as she can on her own without asking for anyone’s help.

Put it this way: you wouldn’t pretend you suffered from cancer, so why would you pretend to suffer from depression? I don’t care if that sounds extreme because the reality is that it isn’t when you feel like nothing matters and nobody cares about you but that you also probably feel quite apathetic with regards to changing that situation.

Ultimately, being in a relationship with a depressed person has revealed to me that depressed people are some of the most strong-willed on the planet. When your biggest battle is with your own mind simply to get through the day with a straight face you deserve all the credit in the world.

Being in a relationship with someone who has been in this position serves to remind me how lucky and privileged I am to never be afraid to seek help, whether it be through friends, family, or professionals – and how much we can, and should, do to help people who deal with depression.