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Spotting depression in your partner

We all go through periods of stress or low mood at times, particularly when life is tough – whether that’s because of job worries, postnatal depression, financial trouble or relationship difficulties.

But your partner may be depressed if you notice any of these signs persisting for more than a couple of weeks:

  • Their sleeping patterns have changed – either they’re sleeping badly or much more than usual.

  • They’re eating differently – either much less, to the point where they’re losing weight even if they’re not trying to, or they’re comfort eating and gaining weight.

  • They’ve lost interest in sex and may not even want to hug or kiss.

  • They don’t want to go out.

  • They’re drinking more than usual, or smoking or using other drugs.

  • They talk less and seem preoccupied.

  • They’re tearful and cry easily.

  • They’re angry and lose their temper over small things.

According to mental health charity Mind, depression doesn’t always look the way others expect it to. It doesn’t necessarily cause someone to seem sad and cry a lot – they may be irritable and snappy or distant and distracted instead.

Depression can be hard on a relationship, says psychologist Emma Kenny. ‘If neither of you realises depression is the issue, you may feel your partner doesn’t love you anymore or isn’t interested in you or your life. They may not pull their weight at home and can seem self-absorbed. All of this can lead to arguments and resentment.’


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How to bring it up

If you’ve noticed any of the signs listed above, be aware depression could be the problem. This will help you understand that you shouldn’t take your partner’s behaviour personally, which allows you to take a step back and support them.

You could also ask a close friend or other family members if they’ve noticed any differences in your partner.

When you’ve decided to talk to your partner

  • Find a quiet time when you won’t be interrupted to bring up the subject. It may be easier to talk while you’re doing something together, such as walking in the park or doing the dishes, as that can feel less pressurised.

  • You could tell your partner you’ve noticed that they’re behaving differently and you wondered whether they’re feeling low.

  • Let your partner know you’re there for them. They may not want to talk about their problems with you but it’s important they know they can.

  • Suggest they talk to a professional, such as a GP or counsellor – your GP may be able to refer them to a therapist, or you can find one through the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Offer to help them by making an appointment, if they would like that – sometimes people with depression lack the energy and motivation to source support.

  • Avoid discussions about big life plans, if possible. Wait until your partner’s on a more even keel before you talk about a house move, retirement or starting a family, for example.

  • Be patient. Seeking help is a big first step for your partner but it’s only the beginning. There may be a wait for therapy on the NHS and if your partner starts taking medication, it can take time for their doctor to find the right type of medicine, and the right dose. Most antidepressants take a few weeks to work and may have side-effects, so it could be a while before you notice positive changes.

If your partner doesn’t think they need help

‘Some people don’t want to admit they’re having difficulties so may not want to accept they’re depressed,’ says Kenny. That can be very hard for you as their partner, so make sure you’re looking after yourself too. Make sure they’re eating well, keep gently bringing up the subject and suggesting they get help. If you’re really worried about them, you can call their GP and, in the UK, NHS 111 or the Samaritans on 116 123.

You could also recommend they read about depression by showing them this guide. It will help them realise mental health issues are very common and should be treated the same way as physical health problems. If they’re still refusing help after a couple of weeks it could be another condition, so keep listening to your partner and offering support to help them through it.

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Is it really depression?

Some other conditions have very similar symptoms to depression. For example, in women low mood may be caused by hormonal issues such as premenstrual syndrome or perimenopause, while depression can be a sign of dementia in the elderly.

That’s why it’s important you encourage your partner to seek medical help as soon as possible, so they can get the right diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment.

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