Ask Emma: How do I help my loved one struggling with depression?

Talk to your partner about how to support them; listen, ask questions



There are steps you can take to support your loved one struggling with mental illness.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen news editor

Dear Emma,

My significant other has depression. It was under control for a while, but it seems extra bad lately. I want to help them, but I have no idea what to do. I have never experienced what they are going through and am completely at a loss for how to support them. 

I’m also worried because I know they’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past. It doesn’t seem like that is an issue yet, but I know that could change. 

I really love my significant other and want to make sure they are mentally healthy. How do I do that?

Please help,

Concerned Partner

Dear Concerned Partner,

It breaks my heart to hear you and your significant other are going through this. I can only imagine how hard it is for both of you — though in very different ways. 

You are taking a positive step by trying to support your partner. I suggest talking to them about the best ways you can help them. Be prepared — they may not know (yet) what help they need. Remember to center your actions on them and not your need to be helpful or feel useful. 

If your partner is not already seeing a mental health professional, that is the first thing I recommend. You are not trained to provide care for someone with depression (I assume), but you can walk your partner through that process.

If they have no energy or feel unmotivated, that might be something you need to support them with. Offer to sit with them while they make the call for an initial appointment. The phone number for an initial appointment at Counseling and Psychological Services at WSU is 509-335-4511.

Your partner may like reminders about their appointments or taking their medication, but that’s something you should ask them about before you start. 

Ultimately, it should be their choice to lean into those resources; you can’t do it for them. 

One of the best things you can do for your partner is be there to listen. They might not want to talk about what they’re going through right now; the important thing is they know you are there and want to listen. You said you haven’t experienced something like this before, so this is your chance to learn and empathize.

Be sensitive to what your partner is going through (as I’m sure you already are). This is not the time to yell at them about getting help or make any other sort of rash decision. Try to be calm and considerate in how you engage with them.

If you are worried your partner is having suicidal thoughts, be aware of the warning signs. If you notice your partner talking about death more, withdrawing socially, changing their normal routine, saying goodbye to people or anything else of that nature, it’s time to be concerned.

Ask them in a non-judgmental way, “Are you thinking about suicide?” Do not guilt them or promise you’ll keep the conversation a secret. Talking about suicide and listening to their answers may decrease suicidal ideation, according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Ask if they have a plan and access to their planned method. This is a scary question, but it will help you determine how at risk they are right now. Helping them put time and space between themselves and their planned method can be beneficial, according to NSPL. 

Finally, don’t hesitate to call the NPSL at 1-800-273-8255. They can direct you and your partner to local resources. Keep this number handy.

Make sure you have your own support system in place while you deal with this. I hope these tips help and don’t hesitate to write in again.

Take care,