Question : My boyfriend has been depressed for nearly 6 months. Initially I supported him as much as possible, trying to counsel him, be by his side. But I feel he’s pushing me away. He’s stopped calling me and rarely replies to my messages too – and he keeps bunking college! I don’t want to leave him, but at the same time he doesn’t seem interested in me anymore. I’m stuck and kind of frustrated but also feel guilty because he’s obviously not feeling so great. I need help because my friends don’t really understand what the big deal is ? Teentalker , 17-year-old
I can hear your frustration! I’m really glad you’ve spoken up about this because being the partner of a depressed person can be emotionally exhausting. And at the same time you feel guilty because you want to help but so far everything you’ve been trying isn’t working. Here are a few active steps you could take to help yourself:
- Being associated with someone who is depressed can get “compassion fatigue”. Allocate a specific number of hours in the day to him and keep the rest for yourself.
- Help friends and family understand what depression really is.
- Help your boyfriend seek professional help.
Here’s how to go about it:
The reason you feel this way is because you really want him to be okay – and now your compassion is feeling compromised. This happens to people (yes, even teenagers!) whose partners, close friends, family members are going through depression, and there’s actually a term for it – “compassion fatigue”! So this means that there are two parallel things going on here – your own feelings as well as your boyfriend’s feelings. Let’s look at yours first.
How much time are you spending calling/messaging/supporting your boyfriend? Do you find that you’re constantly on call, ready to motivate him, pacify him, listen to him, worry for him? This is natural, but it does lead to more compassion fatigue and like you said – boredom. If you can limit those hours in the day so that you have energy left for yourself, you’ll feel less stuck and in the meantime you’ll be building your own abilities.
Even though your rational side is telling you not to take your boyfriend’s depression personally, you may be feeling disappointed that you don’t spend much fun time together anymore and that you miss him. You’ve been coping with this for 6 months – what has helped you? Maybe reading up on depression to understand the facts. Or maybe focusing on things you enjoy – something creative, sports or reading and watching movies. I know you’ve said that your friends don’t understand what the big deal is – you could tell them that depression is an illness caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, and the symptoms can be really devastating for both the sufferer and their friends and family. Being depressed, your boyfriend is unable to make sense of the world he is in – his reality feels different from everyone else. Do talk to friends or family because you need your own support system to rely on – people who can distract you and listen to you.
As to your boyfriend’s feelings – know that you are not responsible for his depression, or for pulling him out of it completely. While you can help by being there for him, he needs professional help – a counsellor or a psychiatrist – and someone in his family needs to know what he’s going through. Would it be possible for you to share your concerns with his siblings or parents or someone who is a responsible adult in his life. This is an important step because they can decide how to proceed to get him help. Take a deep breath and try and listen to your boyfriend’s feelings without offering advice (unless he asks for advice!). Give him the options – that he should get help, where the help is available, and once you’ve read up on the facts, let him know that you understand the pain he must be in – he’ll appreciate it.
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