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Living With a Depressed Person

Depression is a pervasive disorder that affects a person's body, thoughts, emotions and interpersonal relationships. Often, well-meaning relatives and friends can exacerbate the depression by either denying the depressed person's experience (“Cheer up! Things aren't so bad!”) or by taking over control (“Stop sulking and go to work!”). Here are some suggestions for living with a depressed person that may make things easier for you and more beneficial for the depressed person.

Recognize that depression is often expressed as hostility, rejection, and irritability – especially in men. These are signs of a disease, not a personal rejection.

Understand that depression is a disorder with biological, psychological, and interpersonal components; it is not a personal weakness or an admission of failure. Make sure the depressed person knows that you understand this fact.

Adopt a “one-down” interaction style that leaves the depressed person in charge, at least superficially. For example, instead of suggesting, “Let's go to the movies tonight,” you may want to suggest, “Hey, I'd really like to see a movie. Which one of these would you like to see with me?”

Encourage the depressed person to seek professional help. Accompany and support the depressed person, but make it clear that the responsibility for getting better lies with him or her. Attempts to externalize responsibility (“You forgot to remind me.” “She wouldn't drive me to the session.”) should be disputed and the responsibility for getting better placed back on the depressed person.

Remember that treatment is very effective. About 70 to 85 percent of depressed people improve within a few months after beginning treatment.

Support opportunities for the depressed person to be rewarded, such as visiting friends or going out for activities. However, don't force these situations, as this would be viewed as taking control.

Make sure to notice and praise any significant improvement. Be genuine. “I'm glad you're taking care of the kids; I've always appreciated that” is better than “Well, it's about time you took care of the kids again.”

Leave time for yourself and your own needs. Depression makes people lethargic, irritable, and self-focused; this will wear on you. Take breaks from the depressed person from time to time. It will help both of you.

© Copyright 1995-2009 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/16/2006…#13422