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What Justin and Hailey Bieber Can Teach Us About Supporting a Depressed Significant Other

No matter how helpless one feels, there are ways to help your struggling partner

Justin Bieber can't do much to shock the public anymore. During the 25-year-old's decade-long career, he's either commanded headlines with his chart-topping music or his erratic behavior. Bieber has long been called before the court of public opinion for his aggressive, angsty behaviors, though for years his misdeeds have felt more like cries for help than a kid with malicious intent.

No matter what you point to—the drag racing, the violent outbursts, the monkey, or that unforgettable loogie—it's clear Bieber has been long troubled, but he is officially undergoing treatment for severe depression, opening up to fans on social media about his struggles. He's also a newlywed to Hailey Baldwin (now Hailey Bieber) after a whirlwind relationship and marriage that became legal at city hall in September of 2018. Now, however, the elaborate ceremony they have said to be planning for friends and family is off indefinitely due to Justin's mental state. 

And it's no secret that the two have had far from a pristine relationship; they've been snapped regularly fighting in public by the paparazzi and Justin even described their obstacles during an interview with Vogue in February (where the two graced the cover, Hailey pictured in a wedding dress and Justin, well, shirtless): "I’m not going to sit here and lie and say it's all a magical fantasy. It's always going to be hard. It's a choice. You don't feel it every single day. You don't wake up every day saying, 'I'm absolutely so in love and you are perfect.' That’s not what being married is." He went on to tell Vogue that, just prior to their interview, he'd left a "weeklong intensive group-therapy retreat" early, revealing he simply wasn't ready to face his traumas (thankfully, this has changed)—including two unstable parents, a Xanax habit and a "legitimate problem with sex". But where does his wife fit into his life as he fights his issues?

This all may and should all sound startling, but any mental health expert would agree that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Bieber's willingness to open up and be vulnerable about his internal battles not just with Vogue but to the public, through social media, is a huge step forward for men, as Mary Kay Cocharo LMFT and Relationship and Family Therapist validates what we should all know by now: that there's a striking stigma surrounding mental health efforts made by men, meaning most never seek help; rather, they bottle their emotions up. "Many men are taught as boys that their strength is in being stoic, logical and unemotional," Cocharo explains. "When they feel depressed, it’s often hard to admit. Anger seems more acceptable and so depression often shows up as irritability in men." This could adequately explain Justin's past run-ins with the law and eccentric behaviors in his late teens and early 20s. It's plausible the singer was simply pushing past traumas out of thought, traumas that would assuredly bubble to the surface later in life, and now have.
If they are not functioning—staying in bed, lying about without showering or dressing or failing to go to work, you should take it seriously and get help.
One can imagine how painful it must be, as newlyweds, for a partner to find themselves distinctly depressed following post-nuptials, a time when our culture demands both parties be excited, jubilant and ready to pop out babies. Life, of course doesn't work like that and nor does marriage because depression has no bias; it can and will strike whenever—especially if you have a history of depression or mental illness, and/or it runs in your family. And being newly married, for those who must be wondering, can, unfortunately, play into depression as well. Cocharo tells me that in her experience "people do experience a let down after the wedding." She continues, "couples get lost in the flurry leading up to the event and sometimes describe feeling empty when it’s all over. Engagement puts you at the center of attention ... but the day after the wedding, you find yourself alone as a couple."

So, despite the high of a whirlwind romance, Hailey and Justin must have eventually and inevitably come down from that elevated space and had to study their marriage as a reality outside of the romantic tabloids frequently emblazoned with news of their courtship. Cocharo remembers a specific incident in which a patient of hers, a newlywed woman, woke up and declared "Is this it?" Relationship Psychotherapist Dr. Daniel Slavin, MFT, echoes Cocharo's sentiment about post-nuptial depression, stating there can often be some "fear you're making a mistake," and "for men, typically, there's a feeling that the hunt is over, and you’re supposed to just be with that person for life." This feeling can be reduced to "Sexually feeling like the fun is over."

A source told People last month, when Justin first began treatment, that he "seemed down and tired" for a while. Cocharo assures me there are usually clear-cut signs of depression to look for in your partner, including any "changes in mood or behavior that aren’t typical for them." Cocharo adds these might include "loss of interest in activities that were formerly enjoyable, sadness or crying or conversely, anger or agitation. You might notice an increase or decrease of sleeping behavior as well as an increase or decrease in appetite."
But, having observed these changes, when is the appropriate time to raise alarm? Cocharo says if your partner's behavior subsists "beyond a few weeks," or, "if your partner is alluding to wanting to die or just stop living." Basically, "If they are not functioning—staying in bed, lying about without showering or dressing or failing to go to work, you should take it seriously and get help." If your partner is suicidal, and a danger to themselves or others, (and as an absolute last case scenario), Slavin suggests calling authorities: "you can call in a 5150, which is a 72-hour hold" in a psychiatric center. Yet, in situations where this isn't required and resources have not yet been exhausted, "help" can consist of a variety of actions, both clinical and natural—or even better, a combination of the two.

Many have criticized Hailey and Justin's expected path to healing, as they're both incredibly religious and heavily involved with the controversial LA-based Hillsong Church. It's believed Hailey and Justin could be exhausting their resources by relying on church and prayer over science and treatment. Hailey has opened up about her homeopathic approach to mental health, telling W Magazine, "I'll always try to find the route where you can work on your mental state naturally, because I think that’s always possible." Hailey also admits to helping curb her own anxiety with a mixture of prayer, CBD, meditation (she uses the Calm app), breath work and reading self-help books—most notably Daniel J. Siegel's Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.

It's clear Hailey has a dependable routine and is hardcore in her own personal wellness, but as the new wife to someone grappling with depression, what are her responsibilities as a partner? What can and should you do when someone close to you is admittedly feeling "disconnected and weird," as he shared with his fans in an emotional Instagram post last week? Cocharo tells me, for starters, that Hailey isn't actually too off-kilter about her mental health practices: "Holistic treatments help many people, depending on their level of depression. This includes meditation, mindfulness, yoga, prayer, acupuncture, exercise, and even change in diet." However, if your partner isn't improving through implementing these routines, it's definitely time to seek professional help.

"There are levels of depression," Cocharo explains, "Clinical Depression responds best to various types of psychotherapy and medication." Slavin, though, feels holistic methods are best used in conjunction with traditional methods, that it's best to seek homeopathic remedies only "once there is movement in the traditional approach." However, different things work for different people, and every situation of depression is unique to those living it.
The masses have seen the photos of Justin and Hailey's aforementioned fighting in public, even crying together, most prominently in images of the two crying and embracing over a copy of Timothy Keller's bestselling Christian self-help book, The Meaning of Marriage. The internet, as it tends to do, considered their public union corny, assuming the two long-time Hillsong lovebirds were simply crying over shared Christianity and the sanctity of marriage. However, since we're privy to more information now, this could easily have been a fundamental moment in Justin's alleged collapse and, thus, rise to seek help. Regardless of the specifics of the scenario, addressing treatment with your partner is necessary for creating a safe space in which they feel improvement and progress, without shame, is possible for them—and for you as a couple. "The first step is to have an honest conversation about your concerns," Cocharo tells me. "Come from a soft, gentle place of love," and state your genuine concern and worry for your partner.

Cocharo also recommends attending therapy together, not just so your partner doesn't have to feel like they're battling depression alone, but because "Your partner may be too depressed to give a clear picture" of what's going on, so your presence may be essential: "The advantage to couples work is that you will have a clearer, less biased view of what’s going on." If your partner simply refuses treatment or believes it won't suit or benefit them, Slavin proposes seeking therapy on your own at first—to equip yourself with the tools necessary to help your partner at home as best you can—and invite your partner to join later after it's apparent therapy is working for one party involved.

Another tip, according to Cocharo, is to never treat your partner like "they’re fragile or sick." Then adds, "[You should] convey through your words that you understand their pain and have faith that you’ll get through this together no matter how long it takes. Never, ridicule, demean, criticize or nag your partner about their depression." One of the most important things you can do as a partner, undoubtedly, is trying to comprehend what they're going through, not take their feelings personally, no matter how challenging that may prove to be, and simply be there for them in manageable ways: "It’s important to let them know that they are not alone and you’re there for them in whatever way they find most useful," Cocharo reveals. "This includes being available when they want to talk and available to just sit when they don’t feel like talking."

Some uncomplicated acts are to "Invite your partner out even when you know they don’t want to go and hold them accountable for small, doable tasks," to help re-introduce routine into their life. Finally, you should educate yourself on your partner's symptoms and possible treatments. As Cocharo says, "Doing this research takes a lot of energy and the depressed partner is unlikely to have it." After all, "Arming yourself with information" is an essential way to become and remain supportive. As caring and encouraging as Hailey is with her husband, it's easy to imagine Justin is in good hands and will pull through his depression, whether it takes a short or long time, with the proper treatments (both clinical and holistic), a safe environment, and a solid support system.

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