How do I deal with my boyfriend's depression?

Dear Anna,

My guy and I have been together for just over two years. We have great communication; we have great sex and lots of chemistry. He is truly my best friend. What hurts our relationship is his depression. He'll have long periods where he is doing great, followed by very rough patches of depression. He won't get out of bed. He takes time off of work and completely shuts down from me. He won't go on any outings with me, and I'm left making excuses to friends about his absence.  He tells me not to take it personally. I understand, as I have dealt with depression myself. As a result, I feel horrible not being able to deal with his periods of depression every two-three months. It gets emotionally draining as we live together. Therefore, I go to bed with his depression, and I wake up to it. Should I say something? Should I feel guilty about the way I'm feeling? Do I seem like an unsupportive girlfriend? I can deal with rough times. Life is never easy, yet when this happens every two-three months, I think "Here we go again..."

--Drained

It's easy to get down on yourself in this kind of situation, but you really, really shouldn't. Love can't cure your boyfriend's depression anymore than it can cure leprosy. As much as you can, try not to beat yourself up over something that has nothing to do with you. Depression is a chronic illness. It's no reflection of what kind of girlfriend you are, though personally I think you seem pretty swell.

It's also very common for depression to negatively affect both partners in a relationship. To that end, especially since you've had bouts of depression in the past, you should remember not to disregard your own needs. It's easy to put aside your desires and social life when your partner is struggling, but taking the time to pursue things that make you happy has the dual effect of staving off your own sad tendencies and preparing you to deal with your partner's. So, by all means, don't cancel your windsurfing lesson or your weekly UNO tournament with your friends. Eat well. Sleep well. And do what you need to feel happy and sane.

You didn't mention this, but if he isn't receiving any treatment for his illness, then please encourage/insist that he go see a health professional. (And by health professional, I mean someone other than a girl who writes about vaginas a lot on the Internet.) Offer to schedule the appointment, if necessary. Some recent stats suggest that only 33 percent of people who suffer from depression actually get treated, but of those who do, 80 to 90 percent see improvement and relief. There's more of a stigma around depression for men, which may make them more resistant to seek help, but the longer he waits, the harder it'll be on your relationship, and the harder it is to treat. At this point, it's not just a "him" issue; it's a "you and him" issue.

A friend of mine with experience on the topic adds, "The key, I think, is for the partner to remember that while the depression is affecting them really negatively, it is a thousand times worse to be the person with depression." While it absolutely sucks that you're left to deal with your partner's social cancellations and general mopey-ness, it's helpful to remember he's not doing it to spite you.

If you need additional support, don't hesitate to seek help for yourself too, or to find a therapist who specializes in depression in couples that you can both talk to. Basically, the more people you have in your corner, the better.

Want to ask Anna an anonymous question about love, sex or dating? Email your quandary to redeyedating@gmail.com. 


Need to give your dating life a boost? Sign up for RedEye Dating. Pick dates, not people.
CHICAGO

More