Combatting Depression: Strategies for Your Relationships

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Tatijana Busic

Depression can be isolating, and block us from soliciting emotional or physical caregiving from others, which inevitably worsens our depression symptoms. Other people’s responsiveness toward our feelings and needs can make us feel more connected and better about ourselves.

Identify a friend, family member, or partner who you sense will be mostly available and responsive to you at this time. Good indicators would be someone you think is sensitive, a good listener, and understanding of others’ feelings and viewpoints. If you are unsure or cannot identify a responsive other in your life, or if your emotions and needs for support exceed what others can provide you, you can seek out the support of a registered clinical psychologist. Professional support can make a critical contribution to your recovery in these cases.

Sharing and Expressing Feelings and Needs to an Accessible and Responsive Other

Don’t isolate yourself! Let those closest to you know that you have been struggling with depression so that they will understand you more so. Share what you know about your own mental health. Let them know that connecting to them may help you with your depression. You may want them to participate in some activities with you, such as walking, going out for dinner or a movie. Let them know that you may need their support from time to time.

Sharing feelings with someone important to you can alleviate depressive symptoms. Prior to talking to another person, try to put your difficult feelings into words and share them with this person. The good news is that you don’t have to have things all figured out before you reach out. You can simply tell this person that you want him or her to listen or to support you to problem-solve a difficult situation or experience, or you can simply ask for reassurance or a hug. Talking things through with others can help you to clarify what you truly think, feel, and need in a way that can give you a more positive direction. Try not to expect perfect responses from others. Sometimes people close to us are trying as hard as they can to support us and have good intentions.

Confirming/Disconfirming Negative Views with Responsive Others

When talking to your available trustworthy confidante, bounce off of them some of the negative views you hold about yourself and others.

Try to figure out what some of the biases and assumptions are that you are holding of yourself and others. Share what your most difficult thoughts and feelings are about yourself or about others in your world. Ask this individual to provide you with feedback about your views and to support you to identify counter-examples of your negative views. It can feel vulnerable to open up about some of the distressing thoughts and feelings that go on inside your mind and body, but sharing with another person that you trust can help you to break the negative thought patterns, perceptions, and biases that perpetuate your depressed feelings.

Asking for Reassurance and Affirmation from Responsive Others

When we are overly self-critical of ourselves or negative about others, we may have difficulties seeing our positive attributes. Relationships are an important source of getting reassurance and affirmation for ourselves when we are having negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves, other people or the world around us.

If you are having doubts about yourself, try asking for reassurance about your lovability, your adequacy, or your competence. Be open to receiving others’ reassurances or positive affirmations of you in a way that helps to calm your sense of hopelessness about prospects for yourself in the present and future. Give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt and allow yourself to feel reassured and affirmed.

Be prepared to observe how others perceive ways in which you might be contributing to your own difficulties by how you are thinking, reacting and relating to others. Interpersonal feedback from responsive others who we trust can provide us important information to consider in our recovery process. Try to remember that being perfect is not a requirement for being worthy.

Repairing Disconnection and Creating Positive and Rewarding Relationship Moments

Sometimes, while depressed, our relationships begin to break down, which leaves us at greater risk of being isolated in our emotional distress. We all make missteps at one point or another in our relationships. Perhaps either you or someone else has said something that was offensive, frustrating, or hurtful.  Since relationships provide all of us with valuable emotional support, it is important to make some effort to repair our relationships with others.

Try to find a constructive way to repair or reconnect with others. In these conversations, it will be important to discuss you and the other person, who may have offended, frustrated, or hurt each other. Be prepared to listen and respond in a constructive manner, including empathizing with the other person’s hurt, sadness, or anger.

Take responsibility, express heartfelt regrets, and make amends if possible. Repairing difficult relationship moments or disconnected relationships can restore a positive sense of yourself and other people in your environment. This process of reparation and healing can create a sense of connection at a time when you need it the most.

Also, try to create opportunities for lightness and fun in your relationships. Meaningful connection with others does not always have to be serious and intense. Although deep, intimate conversations in which you can feel understood and supported are key, it is also important to find some balance by seeking out some frivolous and even spontaneous moments purely motivated by pleasure and some needed distraction in the company of others.

Seeking out Professional Support: Consulting with your Physician and a Registered Clinical Psychologist or Psychotherapist

Consulting with a physician may also be an important first step to assess your current mental health status. Depression can be associated with many biological and medical causes that require medical interventions.

Seeking the professional support of a registered clinical psychologist or psychotherapist may be important to help you address the negative thoughts and feelings you are having about yourself, or others. Learning how to address perfectionism, self-criticalness, and process your emotions and clarify wants, needs, and goals can be challenging. Contact a psychologist or psychotherapist if you find that dealing with your thoughts and feelings on your own has become unmanageable.  

Contacting a psychologist or psychotherapist may also be an important first step if you continue to experience debilitating depressive symptoms that interfere with your functioning at work, home, or school. A therapeutic relationship can help you to make sense of your experience of depression and help you along on your path to recovery.  A confidential, empathic, and compassionate therapeutic relationship can help you to strengthen yourself as an individual, to improve the quality of your relationships, and provide you with further strategies to help you deal with the negative thoughts and feelings you have been experiencing.

Read more additional posts from the 'Depression' series:

Learn more about CFIR’s Depression, Mood & Grief Treatment Service.