Hands down, loving someone with mental illness is one of the most challenging experiences a person could have. More attention is always paid to the individual suffering with the mental illness than the loved one, and this is understandable. However, far too often we neglect just how difficult the experience can be for the loved ones. As with addiction, mental illness affects everyone in its path.
This is the first in a series on loving someone with mental illness, and the first illness I will consider is depression as depression strikes so many people across America. Depression can be confusing for loved ones to understand, particularly if the loved ones have not experienced depression themselves.
Trademark symptoms of depression include a loss of energy and loss of interest in doing things the person normally enjoys doing. Appetite and sleep are often affected, as is the ability to function in everyday life.
Loved ones who don’t understand depression can fall into judgment (“Why don’t they simply get over it?”) or can take things personally (“Is it something I’m doing that's making them unhappy?”). The most important thing to do when you love someone with depression is to learn about the disorder. Research depression online, and ask your friends whether they have experienced depression or have loved someone who had depression. You would be surprised how many people have been affected by depression, either directly or indirectly.
Once you know more about the disorder, you will know you should not judge it and that you should not take it personally. Understand that depression often works in a cyclical manner, which means that the depression will often lift, at least somewhat, in the future. Finally, talk to your loved one and confide in that person that this is a disorder you are learning about so that you can provide support for him or her.
Depression is awful but knowing how to navigate it can make it easier to bear.