People with depression aren't the only ones doing it tough - their partners often struggle to cope with emotionally challenging situations. Olympic boxer Alexis Pritchard and her husband, Cameron Todd, open up about their personal battle.

Alexis Pritchard and her husband and coach, Cameron Todd, are no strangers to a fight. And they've got a long-term opponent outside the ring - Todd's depression.

They've learnt to manage it together through trial and error, and lots of communication.

"She's my best friend without a doubt," said Todd. "We became very close friends before the rest of our relationship started. We knew everything about each other. We'd seen each other at our best and worst. And as Lex has sort of understood me better we've only got closer."

Todd has trained Pritchard, 35 later this month, since she started boxing. He steered her to bronze in the 57kg class at this year's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where he was also national coach. He was also national coach at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2012 Olympics, where Pritchard became the first Kiwi woman to win a boxing bout.

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They're well aware not everyone with depression is in a loving relationship and quick to acknowledge they still have tough days. But they're adamant there's hope if you can reach out.

"All I can say to people who are suffering with depression is pick a moment when you're feeling really good," said Todd.

"Medication can help but it's not a quick fix, it's a tool. You've still got to have the ability to communicate and someone who's there for you makes a big difference. People don't realise that there are a lot of people out there who will help so long as you open up. It's not as scary as you think."

Alexis Pritchard, right, during her bout against Russia's Sofya Ochigava in the women's lightweight boxing at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo / NZ Herald
Alexis Pritchard, right, during her bout against Russia's Sofya Ochigava in the women's lightweight boxing at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo / NZ Herald

The Herald visited the couple two days before it was announced that TVNZ news presenter and journalist Greg Boyed had died after battling depression.

Pritchard said the timing was "eerie" and hoped his death could help New Zealand start a proper conversation about mental health.

"Our government can only do so much, we all need to step up and take responsibility.

"We have been losing our sense of community for a very long time. We live such isolated lives. We have forgotten what is actually important to us as human beings – love, connection and service to others."

Pritchard said it was important to be brave enough to ask people with depression whether they had suicidal thoughts.

"The people in my life have told me it was harder to attempt something in the period after I asked about suicide because they knew someone else knew their intentions."

Alexis Pritchard with the bronze she won in the women's 57kg class at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast earlier this year. Photo / Photosport
Alexis Pritchard with the bronze she won in the women's 57kg class at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast earlier this year. Photo / Photosport

Todd said his darkest days felt like being in "quicksand". Pritchard said he had "quite often learnt to work his way out of it".

She's his go-to person - sometimes just sitting with him, other times listening or talking.

That presents its own problems. Sometimes she needs a break too.

"In the dark moments you need to be okay with going somewhere else and having someone to talk to," she said.

Todd's grateful his wife has her own support network. He knows he's "not a lot of fun at times".

Pritchard has drawn on her experiences to offer advice to those close to people with depression. At its heart, tried and tested strategies that have worked for them.

While every case - and relationship - is different, they're confident at least some of the advice is universal. Originally posted on her blog, Rebuild With Lex, the Herald republishes it today ...

Supporting a loved one living with depression

By Alexis Pritchard

I wrote this a few months ago, before I was brave enough to publish my thoughts.

I believe it is important for me to take part in this conversation and share with all of you who are helping and supporting a person with depression. We need to realise we are not alone either.

Insight: Listen and learn

I went along to the award-winning show written and performed by Rob Mokaraka, Shot Bro! Confessions of a Depressed Bullet. The story is about Rob's personal battle with depression and near-death in 2009.

With a lot of professional help and the aroha (love) of whanau (family) and friends, he crafted a show that empowers people with depression.

I saw a piece on Maori TV a couple of years ago. Rob was sharing his story about depression and I knew it was something I needed to see. I hoped it could give me more insight into the minds of my loved ones living with depression and add another tool to my belt when trying to support them. And it has – more insight and more tools.

Our journey: Learning to support my husband who lives with depression

I have not personally battled depression and find it very difficult to imagine the magnitude of the struggle. I am not sure you can comprehend the effects if you have not experienced them yourself, but my husband, Cam, has and does. (Many others in my tribe of family and friends do too.)

The last eight or so years have been about learning how to support them all. My biggest work-ons have been trying to understand what it is like (this is the hardest part for me and I am not sure I will ever really get it) and trying to be understanding.

There are moments when I am very understanding. And there are days when I want to pull my hair out because Cam knows what would help him feel better yet just sits on the sofa because he is not willing or able to leave the house. In my head I am shouting, "Why don't you just get off the sofa and go for a walk and get some sun?" – not very understanding!

Some days I sit in with him but other times I just want/need to get out and leave the house for a few hours. Those of us supporting a loved one need to make sure we make time for our self-care. We are no good to anyone when we are running on empty.

We have a problem in New Zealand

We clearly have a major problem with depression. Our suicide rate in New Zealand is among the highest in the OECD.

We have a public mental health system that is not robust enough to deal with the magnitude of the issue, there are waiting lists to get into publicly funded programmes and it can take months to see a therapist.

Private therapy seems unaffordable to many people who need it most. I have no doubt the clinicians in the sector are doing all they can but there are not enough of them.

So that leaves friends and families to step up and lean in. If you're one of them, be prepared to be uncomfortable, ask hard questions and accept the answers you are given.

Actor Rob Mokaraka, whose show Shot Bro, inspired Alexis Pritchard. Photo / NZME
Actor Rob Mokaraka, whose show Shot Bro, inspired Alexis Pritchard. Photo / NZME

10 things I've learnt about people with depression that may help them and you

1. Validate rather than invalidate. Their feelings are real to them, their perception is their reality. Don't dismiss these feelings.

2. Work on being non-judgmental and adopting a non-judgmental stance. This takes practice but will be so helpful to your loved ones. I encourage you to read more about how and why.

3. Cuddles, love, connection: Sometimes it's enough just to sit on the sofa and hold their hand.

4. Don't try to fix or solve the problem, just listen until you are asked for advice or to help them problem solve.

5. Ask what they need and get specifics. "What does support specifically look like to you?" When I am down I want help finding solutions, so when I talk to a friend I appreciate them giving me solutions. My husband does not. He just wants someone to listen and not judge or give solutions. He says he has already thought of the solutions and knows which is the best option but when he is that low cannot action it. He is stuck and needs time to work things through. So I listen, give him a cuddle and then leave him to have some alone-time while I get on with other things.

6. Make sure you take care of yourself. Know you are not selfish for needing time out.

7. Be honest with your emotions to encourage those around you to be honest with their feelings. Don't say you are good or fine when you are not. Create an environment where honest emotions are well-received and the barrier to open conversation is taken away.

8. If you are concerned about suicide, ask the person if they are having thoughts of self-harm/suicide, sit with them, keep a close eye on them. I feel very grateful Cam has never been suicidal but a few of my tribe have been.

9. Know you will not always get it right but remember you are trying your best.

10. Know your boundaries and let your loved ones know too. For example, I only ask three times if people are okay, they need to meet me some of the way. And I don't stay overnight in hospital when friends have attempted suicide. Cam is the one who has stayed the night and slept in the hospital chair for our tribe. So many broken people, too many hospital visits.

Your support network is important

I am sharing my lived experience so those of you who are supporting someone know you are not alone and don't have to be strong the entire time. Ask for help and support, share your situation and feelings with friends, have time out. Some incredible people have supported me when things were tough at home.

My personal experience should not be taken in place of professional advice. Seek help for yourself or your loved one.

Love Lex

WHERE TO GET HELP RIGHT NOW

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat.
NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666.