Disorders and Treatment
- Mental Illness
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Dealing with any depressed person can be tricky. When that person is your boyfriend, it adds another dimension to the problem. The balancing act is between being helpful, pushy and keeping your own needs in mind as well.
In some cases, you may not even realize you’ve started a relationship with a depressed person, assuming this is just the way they are. We’ve all heard about boyfriends who are “moody” or “withdrawn” or “emotionally distant” – some of these may be signs of depression, and with no well version for comparison, this seems normal. It isn’t.
The first thing to realize is that depression is an illness. In the same way we are distracted by a bad tooth with the constant nagging pain, depression acts as a distracting, emotional pain. A depressed person isn’t very nice to be around. So the first step is deciding if you are willing to make the sacrifice required and put the focus on him – with the hope things will turn around.
The next step is to learn what you can about depression, its causes and consequences. And remember, it is experienced differently for a man than a woman. As simple a thing as admitting, “I am depressed” is more difficult for a male. And men are notorious for avoiding professional help. By learning the options available and non-medical treatments, you are more likely to be able to provide solid advice when the opportunity arises.
Learning about depression will help you see past the anger, distrust or overreaction from his side. These are more likely a result of frustration from the depression than anything “real.” Get in the habit of forgiving and forgetting. This doesn’t include violence which sometimes comes out in a relationship where the man is depressed. Get out and get gone if violence is one of the symptoms you are seeing – that’s not something you can help with, and walking on eggshells won’t prevent it.
The real trick is offering opportunities with a little push – the things you know will help him – without being pushy or nagging. Of course he will feel better if he gets outside and takes a bike ride with you. The sun and the fresh air will do him good. But you can’t push too hard.
Do watch for other harmful behaviors to emerge. Drug and alcohol use is sometimes used to combat depression and these only make things worse. You may have to be assertive and insistent if you see something serious arising. Suicidal thoughts or a move toward addiction need immediate professional help.
What about withdrawal and isolation? One aspect of depression is an inability to interact with the world, and this includes you. There may be times when he honestly doesn’t have the energy to participate in your life. Understanding here is key. A good way to look at it is as if depression had a different clock – time moves slower for the depressed person. What you might consider the contents of a normal day will seem overwhelming and complex for your depressed partner.
Schedules and promises help a great deal. But this too is out of balance because of the depression. You have to keep your promises and act as the reliable anchor. He will need forgiveness when he doesn’t keep his. It’s another delicate balance between slight pressure on him to meet obligations and triggering a round of frustration and anger. If you can avoid escalation, even when you have a solid case, that will keep things as stable as possible.
Logic is your ally. Depression is a disease of mood and emotion. We all know that this can be overcome with logic. Even when not depressed, we might not like getting up on time for work, but we do it because we know the consequences. So too is the depressed person reachable with logic. They may not feel like doing X, but if you make a reasoned case, they can still be moved into action.
The good news is that almost all depression resolves, although some will do better with treatment and medication. And a couple that has survived a depressive episode is a stronger couple for it.
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