"I can't do this anymore," he said. "Something has to change. If it doesn't, I'm going to have to leave."

The words were like the slap on the ass that a doctor gives a newborn baby to make it start breathing. Sometimes I think of that period of time as the real beginning of my life. It was messy and painful, like a birth. There was a lot of crying. Fortunately, it was a lot less bloody.

Over the next year or two, I learned to talk. I'm still learning.

There's no way around it: depressed people are annoying. Living with someone who suffers from depression is difficult, to say the least. Everything you do or say to help them seems like the wrong thing. It often seems that they don't want to be helped.

It's important to get an accurate diagnosis. It may look like depression, but it could just be anemia or hypothyroidism. My mother was once convinced that her boyfriend was depressed. When she dragged him to a doctor, they discovered that he had a subdural hematoma. He needed surgery, not antidepressants.

If it does turn out to be depression, don't give up. Despair is contagious, but so is hope. Getting someone who is depressed to accept help can be half the battle. If they're already at the doctor's office, you've made progress. Depression can be managed, if not cured.

If you're sure it's depression, here are some other things you can do:

  • Educate yourself. Read everything you can get your hands on. An attempt to understand your loved one's condition will show that you care, and it may help you gain some perspective.
  • Listen. Just listen. Resist the urge to tell him or her to snap out of it, to give advice, to tell how you handled a similar situation.
  • Take care of yourself. You'll be in no condition to help anyone if you let someone else's depression drag you down.
  • Remember that you can't fix this person: she must do most of the work herself. If all else fails, you may have to consider leaving. This will be terrifying, both for you and for your loved one, but sometimes we all need a wake-up call.

YMMV. It has been pointed out to me (not that I was unaware of it) that leaving your spouse is a dangerous proposition, and may make the depression worse. However, I still think there's something to be said for taking responsibility for your own mental health, and encouraging your loved one to do likewise.

The problem with trying to help anyone with depression is that you never know what's the right or wrong thing to say or do.

You sit there and you try not to draw attention to it. You try to suggest spirit-raising things to do and you avoid mentioning the D word because, well what if you're wrong? There's a big difference between being clinically depressed and just being a bit down. If you live with somebody you absolutely know suffers from clinical depression, it's even worse because depression is not constant, it's sporadic. A bad week might be all that's going on.

The simple question "Babe, are you getting depressed?" could be really dangerous. It might well be exactly that kind of slap to the self-esteem to somebody who thought they were either fine or coping that precipitates the full-blown downward spiral. And you don't want to see that happen, not because depressed people are annoying but because you love that person and you don't want them to suffer through all that misery yet again.

The safe course is to simply watch and listen, always listen but never ask. And rest assured, your loved one will bear you a grudge for not helping. Even though you wanted to. Really, you have the choice between being an insensitive jerk for asking to help or being an insensitive jerk for not asking to help. All you can really do is love that person as much as you can.

1. Hold their hand.

2. Sing to them.

3. Stay patient, no matter how angry they get.

4. Remember, they didn't choose to be depressed

5. No amateur psychotherapy : you don't know how to do it and they don't need it.

6. In fact, don't try to cure them at all. You don't know how to do it, and they don't need it.

7. A kiss on the forehead works wonders. A hot tea. A place on the couch. A blanket. Something to tell them, they're home.

8. If they want to cry, let them. You can't talk them out of it.

9. If they want to talk, listen. Don't ever give advice.

10.Sympathize, and smile. Remember this will pass. If you don't know it deep in your soul, how will they?

11. Make sure they're getting professional help: even if they don't want it, even if they hate you for it. It can be helped, and they'll be thankful for it later...

And remember one thing: Professional help is NOT enough. More than anything, someone depressed needs to know that they are loved. They might not be able to show you they appreciate it, but they do. I've been there. I know.

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