It’s been eight years since I left my parents house and I’ve had plenty of experience in the roommate arena. I’ve endured everything from offensive habits to extreme passive-aggressive behavior.
However, arguing over dirty dishes in the sink is a normal part of the roommate experience. We often have to make the most of these situations by practicing our communication skills and learning how to handle differences amicably and like “grown-ups.”
And looking back, I can now laugh at these times and be thankful for them. Living with multiple people taught me to accept their differences. In other words, I learned that just because I didn’t understand someone’s behavior doesn’t mean that it was “bad” or “wrong.” It was just different.
The experience that taught me the most was when I lived with someone suffering from depression. Coping with a roommate who has depression is not easy for you or your roommate. Both parties are often ill-equipped to deal with this kind of situation.
On my end, I was worried about expressing my concerns because I didn’t want to further upset my roomate. On my roommate's end, communication wasn’t an option because they simply couldn’t express just how bad they were feeling or why it was difficult to perform everyday tasks.
As a result, I spent many wakeful nights worrying about my situation. I would leave for ten hours a day to avoid an awkward interaction in the house. I would eat out more than I would cook because the place was growing further into disarray. I would stress that maybe I was overreacting. My brain was clouded with thoughts like “What can I do better? Am I too judgemental? Is this normal?”
It wasn’t until I spoke to a counselor that I realized the situation was having an impact on my mental health. My counselor gave me the wake-up call that I needed. It was time for me to handle the situation like an adult. Since I couldn’t directly change the situation, I had to change how I dealt with it.
Here is what I learned from living with a roommate with depression and how I dealt with the situation in a way that supported my mental health as well as my roommate’s.
What You Can Do For Yourself
Integrating meditation into your daily routine can have lots of positive impacts. One aspect of it I found particularly useful was how it helps you cope with environments you don’t have control over. Before leaving your safe space (in my case it was my room), practice focusing on your breath. The oxygen delivered to your system promotes a calm and relaxed mind that you can carry into the rest of your day. Your centered energy will also have a positive impact on your space and maybe even on your roommate.
Try to empathize with what your roommate is going through. For you, cleaning the house is probably a pretty easy and rewarding task. For a person with depression, just getting out of bed can seem daunting and pointless. Don’t take their lack of initiative personally. Try to change your bad thoughts into good ones. For example, instead of thinking, “it’s frustrating that she never seems to leave her room” think, “Wow it must be tough to spend all day in one room, I’m glad that I have the energy and mental health to live an active life.”
If your roommate is struggling with depression, support and empathy go a long way.
Your roommate's lethargic energy, although unintentional, can be contagious, and you may find yourself slipping into the same state. Discipline in a situation like this is necessary to find your centre and your peace. Use your discipline to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle by spending time with friends, eating well, and getting a night of good sleep.
Understand your limits
Despite your best efforts, living with a roommate struggling with depression can be uncomfortable. Understand where you draw the line and how much your own wellness is being impacted.
What You Can Do For Your Roommate
As difficult as it may be to live with someone with depression, it clearly isn’t as difficult as living with depression. As much as you can, try to find out how you can support your roommate.
Although you may feel frustrated with your roommate at times, avoid the ‘tough-love’ approach. They are already feeling very down about themselves and this might push them away. It’s very important to be empathetic in situations like this and to deal with your own frustration in a separate and healthy way (for example, talking to a counselor, friends, family, etc.).
If your communication channel is open with your roommate, encourage them to get treatment. Make it easy for them by organizing a list of free and paid services that they can use. For example, the Canadian Mental Health Association and AMI-Quebec offers paid and free services.
If they don’t feel comfortable seeing a professional, maybe you can encourage them to talk to yourself, friends, or family members about what they’re going through.
And if your roommate's depression reaches a dangerous level, then it is advisable to reach out to their friends or family, or maybe even a crisis centre, for them.
After implementing these simple wellness practices and becoming more aware of how to care for a person with depression, I felt much better about my living situation, and I hope my roommate did too. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to coping with depression or supporting someone who is, but taking care of yourself and showing your roommate that you’re there for them is a great start.