How can I help deal with my girlfriend's depression?
October 22, 2012 10:33 AM   Subscribe

How can I help deal with my girlfriend's depression?

I have been dating my girlfriend for a while and she is awesome. She struggles quite heavily with depression. I also struggle off and on but it is never nearly as severe as her's. Dating her has been eye opening for me and I now understand depression on a much larger scale than before. I know it isn't something the depressed can just 'snap out of'. It is a disease that millions struggle with. She goes through phases. She may be happy for a few months, and then slips suddenly into an extremely depressed state for a few months.

I know a lot of people will say that she needs to seek a professional for help, but she and I are wary about that route. She has tried counseling with no success. I also have a friend who struggles with the same thing. He is medicated now and the meds are seriously affecting his chemical balances in a permanent way. I have also noticed his whole aura shift dramatically. I like my girlfriend the way she is :)

I am trying my best to be supportive and understanding. Struggling with depression myself makes it a little hard because I am not taking care of myself and do not have the support that I am giving her 24/7.

What should I do?
posted by *lostatsea* to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I like my girlfriend the way she is :)

No you don't. I mean, you are asking a question as to how to get someone help, so she clearly has some improving to do. So you do not like her the way she is and you want her to change for the better. You don't get out of a lifelong depression without becoming very different as a person. Her personality, right now, is in many ways defined, restrained and warped by her mental illness. When you take away the mental illness, she will become a somewhat different person. I doubt it will be a person you love any less, but the whole "wary of counseling because it didn't work once"/"aura shift dramatically because of medication" thing tells me that neither of you are exactly sure as to how counseling or medication works or is supposed to work. Getting out of depression involves a lot of steps, including changing one's habits, one's outlook and behaviors.

Also, there are many different modes of therapy, and people react different to all of them. Some can't stand the pressure of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and stick to analytic. Some think analytic is a waste of time and are better served by getting things done with CBT. Some can only do one-on-one, some function better in group therapy. There's a wide, wide world of counseling out there and if you've only tried pistachio-flavored ice cream, I think shying away from ice cream in general is a little odd.

Other than that? She should start taking vitamins, waking on a regular schedule, getting the right amount of sleep (not too much, not too little,) exercising regularly and all that good stuff. But without a framework within which to do this stuff, it's going to very difficult, and possibly too difficult to accomplish.
posted by griphus at 10:39 AM on October 22, 2012 [25 favorites]

I want to pull out a sentence for you to look at long and hard:

I like my girlfriend the way she is :)

You've just spent a couple paragraphs telling us that "the way she is" is being in suffering. Are you SURE that you like her the way she is?

She will be different if she is in therapy or counseling or medication, yes - and yes, it is possible that the "new" her will not want to remain in a relationship with you. But keeping her in suffering just so you can keep her for yourself just as she is is profoundly selfish.

I know this sounds harsh, so let me say that I sincerely don't think you're deliberately keeping her from seeking treatment. I'm just pointing out something to you that you maybe haven't noticed.

Good luck to you both.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know a lot of people will say that she needs to seek a professional for help, but she and I are wary about that route. She has tried counseling with no success.

Then try again with a different therapist or different type of therapy. I have someone close to me who did very well with therapy. Then we moved and she tried someone new and it was so bad it almost caused a suicide. Then she found someone new again and now she is the healthiest she has ever been in her entire life.

Also, read what griphus said 100 times. Then read it again. Actually read it and understand every word. This is serious stuff; I know first hand. And it's exhausting for all involved.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:43 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone is going to tell you that she needs professional intervention to truly get better, and they are right. Depression medication does not fundamentally change who you are; it only makes you not depressed: able to function, more productive, less anxious, not suicidal. Better.

What I wanted to add specifically is that you cannot fix her. It is not your job and you're going to drive yourself crazy trying. If you've suffered from depression yourself you should know that you can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps to get out of it, and guess what? You can't pull up somebody else's bootstraps, either.

She needs to see a doctor.
posted by something something at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2012

@all - Great advice so far. I suppose I should jump in on the "I like my girlfriend the way she is" comment. I suppose I should say that I like how she is when in her happy state. I am only wary of her becoming relient on the meds to function properly. But, I suppose with depression being an illness, this is the way it needs to be.

Also, I would love her to try therapy again. When I bring it up she is very much so against it. But I think I need to push harder.

Again, thank you for such great responses so far. I needed a sounding board.
posted by *lostatsea* at 10:48 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am only wary of her becoming relient on the meds to function properly. But, I suppose with depression being an illness, this is the way it needs to be.

Yeah, for some people brain imbalances are like diabetes: with the right medication (insulin, say) indefinitely, they can be kept in check. It can be a little off-putting to think about, but sometimes it's necessary.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:51 AM on October 22, 2012

I am only wary of her becoming relient on the meds to function properly.

"Reliant" is the wrong word to use. Are you reliant on your pants to function properly? Probably not, but if you left your house without pants every morning, that would probably cause all sorts of problems that would interfere with your life and your well-being.

If it comes to the point where medication is an option she's seriously considering it, look at it as more "okay, got up, took my vitamins, took my medication, brushed my teeth, had breakfast put on pants and rock and roll." It becomes a quotidian part of the daily routine much as anything else.
posted by griphus at 10:56 AM on October 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

I am only wary of her becoming relient on the meds to function properly. But, I suppose with depression being an illness, this is the way it needs to be.

Millions of people are "reliant" on medications to function properly. I no longer have my thyroid, for example, so I am reliant on daily thyroid hormone so that my metabolism functions. If your girlfrind goes on antidepressants and they are successful for her -- whether she's on them for a while(which is possible) or for good (which is also possible) -- it's pretty much the same thing. There is no moral or personal failing in being on antidepressants any more than there is in being on thryoid hormone or insulin or blood pressure meds or any other medication.
posted by scody at 11:05 AM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Think of mental illness as you would physical illness. If you need insulin you need it. If you need an anti-depressant, you need it.

It's not an exact science, and you have to tinker around with it until you get a mixture/drug you can live with, but let me tell you, I'd rather feel a bit flat, than be the ball of anxiety I was without my Celexa.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:06 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am a Type II diabetic and need pills (and diet and exercise) to keep my blood sugars in a normal range. Otherwise if they get out of whack, my mood changes drastically from being hungry and thirsty all the time, now matter how much I eat or drink.

We're all just just a few pounds of chemicals mixed with several gallons of water. There is so much chemistry going on in the human body at given time that it's a miracle that all of humanity doesn't shuck off i's clothing and attempt to copulate with trees. Mmmmm, warm leaves...


There's nothing wrong with being reliant on meds if you're sick and they make you better. Your girlfriend and yourself are sick. Y'all need to take steps to make yourselves better and medication is one of those steps.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:15 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Struggling with depression myself makes it a little hard because I am not taking care of myself and do not have the support that I am giving her 24/7.

What should I do?

Take care of yourself better. You can't fix her. You don't have therapeutic training nor any sort of impartiality towards her. Anything you do to try and change her will blow up in your face at some point down the road.

Instead, focus on yourself. Get therapy for your untreated depression as well as the increased stress of having to deal with another person's mental issues.

Your question is ambiguous; how can you help what/who with your girlfriend's depression? Start by answering that question. But any way you look at it, it's going to start with you.
posted by disconnect at 11:18 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Depression medication does not fundamentally change who you are; it only makes you not depressed: able to function, more productive, less anxious, not suicidal. Better.

Ideally, it doesn't; sometimes it does. That needs stressing, because depression affects the ability to calibrate "better", and if a particular medication or therapy isn't working, then you need to be in a position to say that this isn't better and seek another. In a sense, they work by recalibrating "normal", and the problem with "normal" is that it carries an implicit moral weight: that how things are is how things should be, and constitutes what you are. It's an alluring and dangerous fallacy.
posted by holgate at 11:40 AM on October 22, 2012

I am nthing everyone's comments that your GF needs to go back to therapy and get on medication. One way you can be supportive is by helping her get help. With her permission, you can do the research for her, schedule appointments for her, go with her to the dr. and be her advocate. In addition, you can be open minded to all the paths used to treat depression-- including medication. Like any disease, part of getting treatment is exploring your options. The more paths you (and she) are willing to try, the more likely she is to get better.

However, it sounds like she isn't actually on board for this. It is wonderful that you want her to get better; however, that is something she has to be willing/able to do for herself.

Good luck.
posted by emilynoa at 12:09 PM on October 22, 2012

Husband of a woman who has dealt with depression her whole life here. This advice goes down a slightly darker road that you might not even be thinking about but I'm adding it just in case...

I agree with everyone about therapy. She needs a strategy. A therapist, an MD, the right meds. I think what you're saying with "I like my girlfriend the way she is" is that you're scared that medication could manage her depression by softening her lows, but also her highs...essentially by numbing her. And that would change who she is and what you like about her? Perhaps what you're saying is you want her to feel better, but not at the expense of the traits that make her her?

But there are all kinds of meds for depression, and everyone reacts differently to them. Many can help with the lows without also sanding down the highs. She might have to try a few different drugs or amounts or combinations to find what works for her. Again, there needs to be a strategy for this...which includes regular check-ins with her doctor so meds can be adjusted.

This is what is known as managing depression. Note the distinction from solving her depression. It's part of who she is, and you sound like you get that and mostly accept it. Which brings me to the darker part...

I get the sense this is a new-ish relationship. So, as you're getting emotionally invested in each other, make sure you clearly understand that this will always be a part of who she is. And ask yourself "Am I truly okay with this?" "Can I get what I need out of this relationship knowing that this will always be part of her?" Again, she can manage it, and you can absolutely help. Your love can be of tremendous support to her (often in ways you probably won't see), but it can't fix her. You have to accept a large amount of powerlessness in this situation. Like, really accept it. Maybe you are already clear on this. I only mention it in case you haven't thought about it.

Best wishes.
posted by dry white toast at 12:38 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Meds will not fundamentally change who you are. It may soften the hard edges somewhat.

But if for some reason she winds up actually being, for instance, type II bipolar, she will change and for the better-for the reason that if her happy periods are really hypomanic, those can and should change a bit.

Now if she simply goes through depressive stages and then back to "regular" for a lack of a better term, then, no worries.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:55 PM on October 22, 2012

This is somewhat related to dry white toast's comment, but the answer is way more complicated than "therapy, meds, healthy habits" might suggest. That is a process -- a lifelong process. Just getting a med right could take months, if not years. And by right, I mean one that increases functionality without flattening mood or producing too many side effects. Anyone here who says ADs or mood stabilizers don't affect personality are naive.

Finding a therapist and doing the hard work of therapy can take a long time, too. And it's not for everyone or, at least, for those not already stable enough to deal with it.

Your girlfriend is lucky enough to have a caring, aware boyfriend. Regardless of whether she seeks professional help, you can support her decisions. She may need your help with healthy sleeping and eating habits. She may need someone to clean the sheets or keep the apartment tidy. She may need help tracking her moods or getting through CBT workbooks. She may just need you to stand back and take care of yourself.
posted by lunalaguna at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2012

On anti-depressants affecting personality--they do, kind of, but not in the way you mean. For instance, when my depression is being managed properly, I am a neat, organized person. On the wrong medication (Paxil, in my case), I am indifferent to my environment. I want to be neat and organized because that is who I am, but Paxil relaxes me to the point of apathy. The right medication doesn't alter your personality, at least not to the extent that you are a different human being. Unless, of course, you consider your depressed self your authentic self. Some people do.
posted by xyzzy at 1:26 PM on October 22, 2012

My friend's personality changed for the better once she found the right combination of meds for her bi-polar disorder. She said she felt like she "got her old brain back". Her mannerisms and many of her habits changed too. Please make sure you don't like her the way she is so much that you are standing in the way of her getting even better.
posted by tamitang at 1:51 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You seem to think the two choices are to accept you gf as-is or see her change due to medication/therapy. Depression can get worse as the person struggling with it learns maladaptive coping strategies, is apathetic about changing bad habits, exhausts their support system, and the biology of the brain wears pathways with the depression making recovery from each releapse harder and harder. My friend just had the anniversay of her widowhood last month; her husband's untreated depression masked the symptoms of the other serious illness he had and the depression caused him to neglect his health and seeking proactive care. What he died from was entirely preventable and treatable but ultimately his depression killed him.
posted by saucysault at 6:27 PM on October 22, 2012

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