Need help dealing with SO's depression
November 8, 2010 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Need help dealing with my SO's job-related depression.

So here's the skinny:

My girlfriend of about 2.5 years recently moved in. Previously, we had been in a very happy long distance relationship. We lived about 2.5 hours apart, and saw each other at least every other weekend (many times more often).

She finished nursing school in September, and moved to my city to find a job. The problem here is that it has taken her two months to find employment, and this (according to her, it's just this) has caused her to plummet into a fairly serious depression.

While she is pretty good at putting on a sparkly, outgoing face when she needs to, when we're in private she has become incredibly morose and withdrawn. She won't look at me, won't talk to me when I speak to her, she doesn't want to be touched or held, she won't let me help her financially, she only wants to sleep, she won't shower, she leaves the curtains all closed and the house dark, her libido is completely gone, and she has been picking fights over things that previously were completely trivial. Any words of encouragement that I attempt to offer, she turns around into something negative that is completely divorced from my intention.

She was just offered a fantastic job today and, when I suggested going out to dinner to celebrate, her reply was "No. There's nothing worth celebrating"

I'm trying. I really am, but my patience is hanging by a thread. I've never dealt with depression before, and I need some advice from those who have experience with it. What can I do? Do I just grit my teeth and wait for it to pass? Do I continue to try and be supportive? Do I just let her be miserable and go about my own life without letting her mood affect it? Do I confront this all head-on and get all tough love on it?

She's never been like this before. She's always been so happy and strong. But if this keeps up too long, it could be the death of us!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, one good thing is that you at least recognize that it's the depression talking, not your SO. So, as long as you can remind yourself of this, it will make things (marginally) better.

You're going to need to be patient, and you're going to need to suck it up. Things will get better.

When I experienced my first serious bout of depression in 2004 (and it sounds very similar to what your SO is going through), my wife helped me out a lot. She provided me with some positive statements that I could rely on when times were dark:

a) everything is going to be all right - everything will work out
b) you're a strong person who can master any challenge that comes your way
c) we all have the ability to imagine our future and create it

Just try providing her with some heartfelt statements that help her build a strong inner dialogue with herself.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:01 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe nursing is depressing to her. What specific area is she in (geriatric, peds?) I don't know how certain specialties can deal with the negative side. Do you know if her boss/coworkers are well, asses to her? Is she on the shy side? When I started my job here 5 years ago I was crying at my desk. Why? Because everyone was an asshole. The girl next to me reminded me of kids back in my grammar school. But over time it got better because the assholes left and now I work with better people.

Is she open to therapy? How is she with new changes? I dont handle change well and this is part of a major change.

I'm only asking because I have the same moods. However, I recognized when this behavior was just so 'UGH' to deal with. But I also noticed talk therapy alone was not working. I'm not a fan of meds but you know, when I'm not functioning well as a person and I have to be as a parent, I wasn't functioning well with my job and I have to be as income provider, I went on them. And you know, they've actually helped so far.

Listen to her. Do not do the whole "you need help" line. Bad move there. Encourage her to talk with someone and it's ok.

But to me something is going on with the job (like you said) and maybe it's the newness of it all after graduating. She's a big girl now and well, sometimes that in and of itself sucks and is scary (throwing you into a depression).
posted by stormpooper at 10:04 AM on November 8, 2010

Yes, clearly depression is taking its toll. You are a wonderful SO for recognizing the root cause, withholding blame, and trying to help.


You cannot control your girlfriend's mood and you cannot make her be happy. Trying to do so when you are up against a chemical or situational depression is impossible. Not accepting this could well be a secondary COD to your relationship!

You need to talk to your girlfriend and voice your concerns about her well-being. Ask her to go to a therapist to get her through this rough patch, because there ARE things in life to celebrate and you want her to see that. Be willing to go with her.

If she doesn't go and refuses to get help, be prepared to go yourself down the road. Good luck.
posted by motsque at 10:07 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she got offered a fantastic job and she is stilld depressed, she may need help. Can you talk to her about seeing someone to help her through this, now that she has this new fantastic job? It probably has benefits, right?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2010

1) Hang in there, and be prepared to get help for yourself in developing coping strategies etc., particularly, but not only, if she refuses to get help.

2) Offer positive suggestions, along the lines of her ability to get through this, your love and support for her, etc.

3) I wouldn't put much store by her claim that the amount of time the job search has taken being solely to blame for the depression, otherwise one would expect a job offer to have a significant impact on the depression, I should think. It may well have been the trigger, though.

Good luck with this.
posted by bardophile at 10:48 AM on November 8, 2010

A job search of two months doesn't seem all that long to me. Does she have a history of depression? As she was able to land a job despite the depression, I'd say she's got some resourcefulness left.

I don't want this to sound harsh, but maybe she's just not happy living with someone. Yes, she could be clinically depressed, but she could also be just plain old unhappy. Maybe she misses her old place, maybe she's just not that crazy about you and is afraid to tell you. It could be any number of things. I think there's a tendency to medicalize all bad/sad moods.

If she doesn't want to seek therapy or medical help, I don't think you can force her, but she's a medical professional (although a newly-minted one) and must know the signs of needing help.
I have no magic advice, other than talking to her. Are you willing to bring up relationship questions?
posted by Ideefixe at 10:53 AM on November 8, 2010

Often the first 3 months, 6 months, year... of nursing is really REALLY rough. It's different for everyone - and not everyone's experience of course. But the start of a nursing career is frequently problematic for many people. It is an extremely intimate job. You blur common boundaries with people (patients and family) because you have to help them with private or painful events. This can be difficult to tolerate if your own sense of emotional health is fragile. Nurses are often the last gate toward errors occurring to the patient and this can be incredibly stressful. She is expected to catch errors Dr.s make, pharmacists make, in scheduling - you name it - before it reaches the patient. Patients, families, doctors, other staff can all be impressively nasty to you as you try and do your job to the best of your ability. Nursing is physically, emotionally, intellectually and mentally challenging all at the same time and exhausting when each shift is over.

Of course it gets better. That starting period is where nurses learn how to balance things, what resources are available to them, all the things that make you better, happens with some time.

That said - her depression, as motsque puts it, is taking it's toll and your control here is limited. Your influence may not be however. Your support and encouragement is infinitely important.

Because the difficulty starting nursing is so common however, many hospitals (not all of course) have staff to try and counter this. My hospital for example has a licensed therapist who only does job related RN counseling, and a referral service via employee health / employee assistance program. Does she have benefits similar to this? If so she should take advantage of them.

Good luck to you both. I'm sorry she's having such a hard time.
posted by dog food sugar at 11:12 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

She just moved to a new place, moved in with someone after living alone, graduated from school, and dealt with unemployment. Sounds very stressful to me! Starting her job should help get her back into the swing of having a regular life (she is taking the job, correct?)- she'll be out and about, making money, meeting people, and using her skills. Give her some time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:27 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sounds like depression to me. There have been a lot of stressful changes in her life, so that's understandable. But, and this is important, has she recognized that she's struggling with depression? This is important, because ultimately the depression is her problem -- and her behavior and lack of good things in relationship is your problem -- unless you guys can talk about this and she's willing to work at it.

As much as "therapy" is a go-to MeFi answer, it fits here. You can't just wish her out of it.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:23 PM on November 8, 2010

Urge her to see a doctor or a therapist. Working may help a lot; just getting out of the house on a regular basis, and the reward and stimulation of work may go a long way. Meanwhile, you need boundaries, and a support system, perhaps a therapist of your own.
posted by theora55 at 4:14 PM on November 8, 2010

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