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"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.