How do I deal with my SO's depression?
February 26, 2013 3:33 PM   Subscribe

My SO has depression, and he's about to start taking medication for it. Seeing him depressed makes me upset, and sometimes I show this in front of him, which makes him feel worse. How can I deal with this better, and how can I help him deal with this?

I'll keep this short! My SO has depression, and he's about to start taking medication for it. Some days he is quite withdrawn, and seems like an 'empty' version of the person I see when we're out and having a good time together.

I find it quite easy to get upset by this – sometimes I'll cry in front of him, and this makes him feel bad because he can see he's upsetting me. I find this quite hard to control, but I'm getting progressively better at it. We go through a cycle of seeing him depressed, getting upset, which he then sees, and this causes him to hold back from telling me exactly how bad he's feeling. (NB: We don't live together, so a lot of our communication is textual – email, SMS – although we see each other regularly).

So I guess my questions are: how can I help him? How can I avoid fostering a culture where he feels like he can't tell me things because I might get upset?

Thanks in advance, MeFi!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"I care about you. I'd cry if you broke your leg and were in intense pain. You are in intense pain now and I care for you and worry about you. I'm glad you're taking steps to feel better."
posted by plinth at 4:24 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is a really hard situation for both of you, I do understand it and I feel for you both.

I would be honest if you can. You can use my favourite line ‘You can’t help how you feel.’ And by that I mean that when you see him hurting, you feel upset and sometimes you cry, it happens, and you can’t change those feelings. Maybe a little reverse psychology could help, explain that you don’t want to hide things from each other, so when you cry you’d rather be honest about how you’re feeling than try and cover it up. Also you can say that it might help if you talk about those feelings rather than him feeling bad, say it’s a sign that you care.

As for how to support him, just let him know you’re there for him any time. That he can call or text you whenever he needs. I found that going on medication can really affect mood until the dosage is correct and the medication has settled into his system (husband with depression). Explain to him that you know this and that you would like to just hang out watching movies or TV and just be together for a few weeks. Take the pressure off him to act a certain way or go out in public. Encourage him to speak to his doctor if things don’t feel right, this is my most important advice. Don’t just accept the feelings, report it if it’s not working.

Good luck.
posted by Youremyworld at 4:45 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The above look to be good links on supporting somebody with depression. One thing to keep in mind is that depression often comes with a lot of guilt. So when you cry as you feel empathy for him, he may be feeling guilty for upsetting you, even if there is no reason to blame himself. Ultimately, I wouldn't want you to feel you can't be yourself around him when he's depressed, so hopefully you two can come to an equilibrium where he can be open and you can react in a genuine way without him feeling he's hurting you by sharing his distress. It can be hard to see him enjoy himself one day and withdraw the next, but you can be a great support by just being there for him regardless of his mood.

I'm glad to hear that he's getting ready to start medication. Keep in mind it takes 6-8 weeks to see the full effects of medication. As a therapist, I've got to mention how effective cognitive behavioral therapy can be for depression. It works even better in conjunction with medication. It isn't unusual for me to do a joint session with clients' loved ones to help them understand the symptoms and open a discussion on how to be supportive and take care of themselves as well.
posted by gilsonal at 4:48 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You keep practicing your poker face. Don't make him comfort you because he feels bad - on one end of the scale, it's sympathetic but a little helpless. On the other end of the scale it's emotionally abusive.

Work out a way to communicate about how *everyone* is feeling in productive useful language, and if one side of a conversation becomes extremely emotional, that means the other person needs to give that person some room.

In my life, that means I say, "I'm so sorry," and that is the end of the conversation until later, when we can break down what was going on at the time. My husband and I have a longer history of communicating about these things, so we have a good deal of shorthand. That comes with time and conversation.

If my husband broke his leg and was in intense pain, I'd make sure he was safe and as comfortable as possible and receiving appropriate assistance. I would not make him walk over to me and pat me on the back.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:50 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

People who are ill worry terribly about the impact of their illness on their family and friends - as such, it can create huge delight (or at least relief) for them when they see their loved ones continue to experience happiness and fulfillment. So it is important for you (and for your SO) to take care of yourself and continue to do things that make you happy. Also, I'd recommend trying to remember that you are your SO's partner, not his therapist or doctor. And as always, the golden rule applies - think about how you would want to be treated.
posted by analog at 6:05 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I want to second Lyn Never and analog, because their answers are awesome and right on target. I'm the depressed person in my relationship, so maybe I can add a little more from that perspective.

When you see that your partner is depressed, it's natural to want to help him. You need to know now that while depression can be treated, and depressives can go years without an incident, it rarely disappears completely. You will likely be dealing with this many more times in the future, and it's tough every time (though as the years go by your boyfriend will hopefully come to recognize his triggers and develop coping skills to nip it in the bud). The best way for you to cope is to recognize that his clinical depression is a part of your boyfriend, just like his eye color or his crooked grin or whatever.

You can help your boyfriend the most by providing that objective perspective he'll need when the depression strikes again. A healthy person often sees the early signs coming on. You can encourage him to get help when he needs it. That's huge.

Now, about the crying....look, if he were diabetic, would you cry when his blood sugar got low, or remind him to take his insulin?

Honestly, crying over him when he's depressed is the worst thing you can do. This is what happens when you cry: your boyfriend feels guilty for upsetting you. He understands that his illness makes him not the person you want him to be, and this makes him feel even worse. He feels diminished and inadequate. Rather than helping him, you've knocked him backwards a few steps in his recovery. He feels he must comfort you, when he is already doing all he can not to break down. You've pretty much made his illness all about you.

I know that is not your intent, that you have his best interests at heart. I know you just want him to be happy. And of course you have just as much right to your feelings as he does to his. I just wanted to give it to you straight, because you asked how to deal with this.

If you feel so saddened by his depression that it brings you to tears, it may be that this is just too hard on you emotionally as well. The depression could be a deal-breaker for you. That's okay. We're not easy to live with!

But if you decide to stick around, and you really want to help your boyfriend, don't mourn the happy guy that's gone missing. Just recognize that sad guy has a place, too, and remind yourself that eventually you'll have happy guy back again.

When you learn to accept him as he is, warts and all, you'll both feel a lot better.
posted by misha at 5:00 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, shoot, I don't know your SO and don't know you. But as a depressed partner in most of my relationships (rather than THE depressed partner, as all of my partners have also been depressed to some degree...), I wanted to say that my experience has been the polar opposite of what Lyn Never and analog, etc., described.

I never took it personally when my depression made my partners or friends sad. I mean, I minded it because we always mind it when someone we love is sad. But it didn't ever create some horrible endless guilt spiral. It was DEFINITELY NOT ever equivalent to making someone walk on a broken leg, jesus h. tapdancing christ.

In fact, it was often the kick in the pants I needed to start or resume taking care of myself appropriately. A kind of wake-up call. "Hey, sad sack, this isn't just about you anymore, your friend is over there trying not to cry because you haven't gotten out of bed or eaten a full meal in 4 days." PLUS, I am the type of person who *always* feels better when I get outside my head and help others, so honestly, I never found comforting them to be a burden, or felt that my illness was "all about them." If they're dating me, my illness IS partially "about them," because it affects them directly.

Now everyone's different, and everyone's depression is a bit different, so maybe things don't work that way for your SO. But just a different perspective.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:44 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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