Tips for Coping with a Loved One’s Depression

Is your loved one experiencing depression? Are you unsure on how to deal with your loved one’s depression? To help understand what type of impact depression can have on a relationship and how you can cope with your loved one’s depression, I have interviewed psychotherapists Burt Zahler & Alice S. Kitchel.

Tell me a little bit about yourselves:

Burt: “I’ve got three MA’s: two in Psychology and one in Criminal Justice.

Throughout my career I’ve studied different therapies and modalities by taking courses, reading, attending workshops and by being a client myself. In this way I’ve studied Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Gestalt, Rogerian, Primal and Transactional Analysis among others therapies. I provide counseling to groups, individuals, couples and families.

I’m a past president of the VermontPsychological Association.”

Alice: “I attained a Masters degree in art therapy at Vermont College of Norwich University. To further my art therapy profession, I achieved registration as an art therapist and, later, national board certification, both from the American Art Therapy Association. I have also met additional requirements and secured a license as a licensed clinical mental health counselor in the State of Vermont. More recently I completed a certificate program at AssisiInstitute in pattern recognition and analysis. I continue to pursue training, supervision, and continuing education credits in practicing therapy, mental health counseling, and in art therapy. I have worked as a therapist in several settings, a hospital, a day treatment program, an outpatient clinic, as well as in private practice.”

What type of impact can depression have on a relationship?

“Depression has been defined both as a lack of contact and as anger turned inward. While depression can range from mild to catatonia, or so severe that one is virtually static, the depressed person experiences lowering of drive and motivation, difficulty in focusing, and a muting of all the senses. The overall effect of these symptoms on a relationship is that the depressed one is seen to be withdrawing.

The emotional response of the person that is not depressed is withdrawal, which can range from an experience of being abandoned to feeling relief. It follows that the effect of depression on a relationship depends largely on the tolerance of the other to withdrawal. If the nature of the contact is painful (often because it contains too much anger or crankiness) the distance depression brings can be relieving. If the withdrawal is experienced as painful it can lead to more and more frantic attempts to bridge the distance, and when found to be intolerable, can lead to severing the relationship.

Repeated failed attempts to relieve another’s depression often results in feelings of anger, frustration and inadequacy. If the depressed person attempts or speaks about suicide those around them almost always feel frightened and guilty.”

What are some tips for coping with a loved one’s depression?

“Be willing to recognize your investment in being a part of this situation/ For example, was the depression part of the reason for your attraction or were either of your parents often depressed? Do you feel ambivalent about the depression? Do you hate it when he or she is pushy or cranky?

Often conversation is difficult for people who are depressed so be willing to try alternate modes of communicating such as massage, games or music.

While blaming the depressed person may seem natural it will probably make the depression worse. Blaming oneself internally is a major symptom of depression so try not to exacerbate this tendency. Step back. Do not take the behavior of your loved one personally, as well, do not blame yourself. Consider depression a form of flu; while annoying it is never deliberate. Your major task (as always) is to take care of yourself. Get some of your need for contact from friends and colleagues. Get a massage, get some exercise, involve yourself in a hobby, play a game, and phone family.”

What type of professional help is available for someone that is having a difficult time coping with their loved one’s depression?

“I would recommend getting counseling for support and getting more tips on coping, and understanding one’s own relationship to depression. A counselor or clergy member may know of support groups in your area. Also, there are sources on the internet to find support groups,,, and are just some of the sites that have information and possible support groups for both family members and the depressed individual.”

Thank you Alice and Burt for doing the interview on tips for coping with a loved one’s depression. For more information on Alice and Burt of their work you can check out their website at

Recommended Readings:″>Handling Depression in a Relationship″>Postpartum Depression″>Treatment for Depression

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