According to Mind, 10 percent of people in the UK suffer from depression, and the condition can put severe strains on your relationship. Dealing with depression in your boyfriend may be particularly difficult because men have a reputation for avoiding medical treatment, and may not tell you how he’s feeling directly. Learning how to identify depression and what you can do to help will help him start to feel better, but it’s also essential to look after yourself to avoid becoming resentful or depressed.
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Understand and identify
Identifying the problem is one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with your boyfriend’s depression. Learn everything you can about depression (see Resources) – not to offer a professional treatment or diagnosis, but to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. Numerous different factors could cause depression, including hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances, so it isn’t always related to significant life events such as a lost job. Look out for signs of depression such as losing interest in hobbies, sex and work, changes in sleeping pattern, social isolation, fluctuations in weight, constant aches and pains or other symptoms such as increased use of alcohol or drugs.
Raise the subject
Depression won’t improve if you pretend it doesn’t exist. Talking to your boyfriend about his depression may feel very difficult, but you can do it if you choose your words carefully. Don’t say things like “just snap out of it” or “what’s wrong with you?” because these don’t convey the right attitude. Also avoid clichéd phrases like “look on the bright side” or depression being "a state of mind" – if depression was that easy to resolve, nobody would suffer from it for longer than a few hours! Start by saying something like, “I’ve noticed some changes in you recently, and I’m wondering how you’re doing.” If he opens up a little, ask questions like “when did you start feeling this way?” and “how can I support you?” to get a better idea of the problem and how you can help.
You can’t do everything to help your boyfriend feel better. You have to strike the balance between offering a bit of extra support (depression saps energy, so he may feel like tiny tasks are actually gargantuan feats) and not doing too much and “enabling” his condition. Ask if he’s considered getting further help, and encourage him to get an appointment with a GP. Don’t push it, though – there are always other approaches if he won’t go the professional route.
Be open and honest
Don’t treat your boyfriend as if he’s made of glass. You’re likely to be let down or upset at some point during the course of his depression, and you shouldn’t be afraid to say so. Don’t be mean or unnecessarily critical, but bottling your feelings up isn’t the best approach either. Your feelings will fester and morph into resentment if you don’t air them, and he’ll pick up on this and probably start to feel worse.
Set your limits
You can’t do everything to help your boyfriend. You’re enabling your boyfriend’s condition if you become his surrogate mother, because it means that the depression isn’t really causing a problem in his life – you’re picking up the slack. It also makes it more likely that you’ll feel overworked or stressed. Set clear limits on what you’re willing to do and stick to them.
It might seem silly to get treatment or support yourself, but dealing with your loved one’s depression can be extremely taxing. Don’t suffer in silence. If you really can’t cope, you can use counsellors, telephone based support lines or even online services for support. Be honest, but just focus on your own feelings – there’s no need to air your boyfriend’s dirty laundry.
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