Help me help my boyfriend
August 4, 2007 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Help me help my boyfriend. My boyfriend is caring, supportive and great in all the ways that matter, but I think he's depressed, and it's gotten past the point where he's willing to talk about it. He's said several times that he feels there's no way out, and while he's had brief spells of depression in the past and has been able to pull himself out of them, I'm worried that this time it's too deep for him to do it alone.

I've suggested counseling, but he says that he's tried it in the past and doesn't think that he'll find someone he trusts. I explained that it's a process which takes time, but will ultimately worthwhile, but he thinks that he should be able to handle this himself (a holdover from his father, who was a domineering workaholic. As a side note, he recently tried to mend his relationship with his dad, but was basically completely rejected, which I imagine is feeding into the depression as well). He was on prozac for about 5 years before we met, and now refuses to consider antidepressants because of the side effects, and also because, again, he feels like he should be able to deal with it himself. I've said that I don't think antidepressants are something to be taken lightly, but that sometimes when you can't find your way out, and don't have the strength to make the changes you want to, they can help you get to the point where you can do it. Also, we've been fighting a lot more, which makes me scared to keep bringing this stuff up, since he just shuts down or gets angry when I do. He says that he can work it out himself, but I'm really starting to think that that's not possible any more. For most of our relationship he's been nothing but wonderful, and I hate to see this happening to him. I'd really appreciate any advice about what I can say to him, whether I should push him to get help (which I'm afraid might alienate him) or whether I should just back off and let him work it out in his own time. Thanks in advance, and sorry about the length.
posted by odayoday to Human Relations (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I should also say that there are some alcohol abuse issues in his family. He's not an alcoholic, but is concerned with his drinking because of the family history. He feels he shouldn't drink at all, but has trouble doing that while hanging out with friends and sometimes with me, then if he does drink he feels like he's failed in someway. I also think he's using alcohol to self-medicate, and that's feeding into the cycle of depression.
posted by odayoday at 9:20 AM on August 4, 2007

Exercise, being out in the sun, and a healthy diet (particularly one with a lot of fish or other Omega oil sources) also all help alleviate depression. If you can't convince him to get a counselor, can you help with any of those other areas, or would it be less of a conflict to push him in any of those other areas?

I think it's also valid just to say that his depressed mood is making you feel angry, frustrated, and scared, and you want him to get help in whatever way he's comfortable with (which may or may not include counseling or drugs), and you're willing to help research things with him, but that something has to change.
posted by occhiblu at 9:45 AM on August 4, 2007

It sounds like you have said all the things that a loving friend would say to a person who is obviously struggling.

Unfortunately, he has some strong and mutually reinforcing beliefs that are serving to keep him stuck where he is right now.

Your focus on helping him is actually helping neither of you. As long as he can see the impulse to change as coming from you, then you become the focus of his resistance.

The paradox of relationship is that you can't help or fix him -- but when you focus on helping yourself, sometimes the dynamic shifts in a way that helps both of you.

I think the best thing you could do is to tell him that you are taking a big step back until he is willing to take some action on his own behalf.

I also suggest you get some counseling for yourself. Dealing with a partner with untreated depression is hard on you and may be bringing up dysfunctional patterns of your own.

Good luck.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:49 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Going to a therapist and getting on medicine is like admitting defeat, which is a terribly depressing thought. Then with all these idiots on the internet who claim that people with clinical depression just need to exercise, eat right, and just cheer up really doesn't help either.

Bringing up counseling/meds seems a lot like nagging and will most likely make him feel worse. Instead, build a support network. Let his close friends and family know that he hasn't been feeling so well without giving out too many details or severity of the situation. If any mutual friends have been to counseling lately, have them talk about it openly. That will make it seem like every day normal people see a therapist and that his depression is not something to be ashamed of.

Perhaps you should go to a therapist first, even if you don't feel you need it. That first step is scary. It is likely he'd feel better if you went together and took the emphasize off of him.

As for alcohol, he doesn't have to drink if he doesn't want to. Just make him DD, takes the pressure off.
posted by idiotfactory at 9:52 AM on August 4, 2007

PS- prozac sucks.
posted by idiotfactory at 9:57 AM on August 4, 2007

prozac sucks.

For some people, sure. For others, it is an asbolute lifesaver. You have no idea how the OP's boyfriend (or anyone for that matter) might respond to Prozac or any other antidepressant -- and I say this as someone who personally had an awful reaction to Prozac, but later found an antidepressant that worked wonders.

Going to a therapist and getting on medicine is like admitting defeat, which is a terribly depressing thought.

Yes, that might be the OP's boyfriend's line of thinking, which stems from seeing depression as a failure or weakness (or just one's lot in life), rather than a medical condition. In which case, odayoday, perhaps it might be possible to work the medical condition angle and make the following analogy: he'd see a doctor if he broke his leg or had diabetes, right? Well, depression requires help just like the others. If he can see it as a medical matter rather than a personal weakness, perhaps he'd be more open to seeing a doctor and/or therapist.

But ultimately, you cannot make him get help he's not ready to receive, as I've also learned from (sad) experience. Good luck.
posted by scody at 10:22 AM on August 4, 2007

gah, on rereading the question I see that the boyfriend has already tried Prozac. (Stupid new contacts.) In which case, odayoday, you can certainly use the example of people who have had a bad reaction to Prozac who were able to find an antidepressant that worked well for them. (I eventually went on Serzone, which was amazing for me; two other family members have had great luck with Wellbutrin.)

You can still make the analogy to other medical conditions -- if he had diabetes and didn't get the right treatment the first time around, he'd keep seeking out the right medicine/dosage/etc., wouldn't he?
posted by scody at 10:26 AM on August 4, 2007

Exercise and eating better is also an area of frustration to him, since he knows that would help but can't find the energy to do it regularly. He plays tennis once or twice a week, but again, feels like a failure if he's not working out/eating right all the time. There's a lot of all or nothing going on, which again feeds into the cycle of depression. Also, I'm going through a lot of stress myself. I'm looking for a new job, and have had some serious illness in my extended family, and I know that I've been dealing with some degree of depression myself, which makes me that much less patient with him. I've been seeing a counselor for a while, which has been helping a lot, but it's just been a stressful time, and with both of us dealing with things, it's really tough. Also, I was on Zoloft several years ago, and had no side effects. I know that drugs affect everyone differently, but are there things he could try that would be better than the prozac, if it comes down to that?

Thanks for your ideas, guys. It helps a lot, and I feel like I can discuss some of this with him now. Keep 'em coming!
posted by odayoday at 10:29 AM on August 4, 2007

Prozac has a reputation for nasty side effects. Like scody said, Serzone and Wellbutrin are better tolerated by the majority of people, although they are bit more expensive. However! Only him and his doctor/psychaitrist will know what is best. is a good resource about side effects with MAOIs and SSRIs (although the site is down today).

And goodness, no wonder you are both down in the dumps. Go take a vacation and get some massages and smoothies... or whatever you are into.
posted by idiotfactory at 10:50 AM on August 4, 2007

The bad news is that nothing you say to him is going to make him make better decisions about this thing. Depression by its very self-absorbed nature means that nothing anybody else does or says is going to amount to much..

The good news is that all he needs is a healthy break in it to get going back in the right direction and with a little momentum he can kill it.

I've got a well-documented history of depression and have been with my very understanding boyfriend for over a decade.. I can just tell you that from my perspective, there was very little that he could do in those really dark times besides be there for me with an ear and make sheepish suggestions. Every spiral that I fell into and ultimately my decision to attack depression head-on was all on me.

If you have any control over what he eats, at least at night, fiber-rich whole grains, big servings of oxygen-rich leafy greens and fish oils have been known to do amazing things.

The brain is mostly fat and Omega 3 fish oil literally changes your brain chemistry. (There's one by a company called "Country Life" that boasts "High EPA mood balancing formula" that I take and I can definitely tell the difference within a couple of hours when I do.

All hippies on the internet aside, just the little bit of slack on the rope that a few super healthy meals might provide may be enough to help him start making some healthier decisions about the rest of it.. Meanwhile just keep loving him and letting him know you're there.
posted by onanon at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

There are some good suggestions in this thread, and I would like to second ottereroticist and idiotfactory's idea of stepping back and waiting for him to make his own efforts to get help. I know it might seem nonsensical, but I have been close to a couple of people who suffered depression and this was the only thing that worked. You need to be there for him, but only he can make the decision to get help. It also might help a lot to offer to go to counseling with him, as it would take the focus partly off him and his depression is causing relationship issues that you two need to deal with together.

When he says that counseling hasn't worked for him before, point out that it often takes a few tries to find the right counselor. When he says that using antidepressants is like giving up, tell him that they're not a permanent solution, but will help him feel good enough about himself that he can more easily work out things--they're like a hand up. When he says that he has tried them before, and they didn't work, point out that he just might need to try another type. When he says it's all hopeless and that he knows his efforts will fail, tell him that he's not omnipotent and that things might also work out for him. In short, use logic with him. He won't want to hear it, but consistently using logic to point out thinking errors in a firm but loving way can help him see that even though he feels terrible right now, it's possible to get help and help himself too.

You might want to read some books about depression, check out these websites (here, here, and here), and maybe get some counseling for yourself to help you stay happy and healthy while helping your boyfriend.

Oh, and just being there for him--waking up in the middle of the night when he's feeling especially down and needs to talk, holding him when he needs to cry, and doing your best to show him that life really is worth living well--can help a lot. This is all lots of work, but totally worth the eventual reward of having a happy and well-functioning boyfriend. This is a tough road you're on, and I wish you the best of luck with it.
posted by Trinkers at 11:05 AM on August 4, 2007

Your description of your boyfriend matched my situation exactly about 6 years ago. But nothing anybody ever said to me convinced me to go get counseling. I just reached a point in my life where I realized that I had nothing else left to try but counseling. Then I pretty much kicked the depression with the help of my counselor and Celexa. There were side effects which sucked, but it sure beat being depressed.

I did appreciate the people who were there for me while I was depressed, but if my girlfriend or friends pressured me to get some professional help, I would just push them away. It is a decision he will have to make for himself, and realistically, he may never choose that route. Just let him know that if he needs anything, you are there for him. But if you can't handle that, get out of the relationship, because right now, that is the person he is. For me, I didn't choose counseling until I was single, and my girlfriend and I had given up on each other.
posted by Roger Dodger at 2:27 PM on August 4, 2007

Cognitive behavioral therapy. A good introduction is Feeling Good by David Burns. It's not the the usual self-help schlock that the title implies. In my experience, CBT works especially well for those who are both pragmatic and disappointed by the results of insight-based therapy.

I'd also suggest saying to him exactly what you said in the post (with a few pronoun modifications):
I'm scared to keep bringing this stuff up, since you just shut down or get angry when I do. You say that you can work it out yourself, but I'm really starting to think that that's not possible any more. For most of our relationship you've been nothing but wonderful, and I hate to see this happening to you.
IMO, those are heartfelt, compassionate, and powerful words.
posted by treepour at 3:52 PM on August 4, 2007

Okay, there are so many great suggestions here. I think for now I plan to do what I can to be supportive, but also gently remind him that he doesn't have to feel this way, and that I'm happy to help in any way I can. The healthy eating is something I can influence pretty easily, and he's been amenable to the idea of going for walks and things in the past, so perhaps I can make that more of a habit, which would be good for both of us. As for the therapy and/or meds, I'll maybe make my opinion known again, but then let it go, and trust that he'll figure out what's best in time. I'll also keep in mind that we may need a little more space from each other to figure out how to deal with all of this, but I do think we'll find something that can work for both of us.
posted by odayoday at 6:02 PM on August 4, 2007

This must be really hard for both of you...
Just one more suggestion: it seems that he's a typical depressive in the sense that he's constantly beating himself up about everything he does or doesn't do. So, firstly, I think it's important that you don't portray depression as a test or trial he has to overcome or fight or, just generally "finally do something about." Even if you put this in the gentlest words and tread very lightly (e.g. by, as you say, "reminding him that he doesn't have to feel this way"), his warped depressive mind will hear "It's YOUR fault if you don't feel differently! Loser! You feel wrong, you do wrong, and it's your fault!" - and so on. Trust me, I know from experience.
I found the most comforting things for my partner to say (and for myself to remember and realize) when I had hard times to be something along the line of "It's ok if you feel sad/terrible/like crying", "Don't beat yourself up", "It's understandable if you feel like doing nothing, and it's ok if you don't do anything - you're still an o.k. person." This helped me accept the basic fact that it's always ok to feel x, no matter what x is - that there are no "wrong" feelings, even in depression; and that even if you're stuck in a rut, this doesn't mean that you're not ok as a person.
Maybe this helps you a little bit.... Good Luck!
posted by The Toad at 4:14 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

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