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Ask Alina – How to Support a Partner with Depression

Dear Ask Alina,

My girlfriend hasn’t been herself lately. These days she is either angry or sad. She goes to work, comes home and turns on the television, does not engage in conversations, and complains she is tired and can’t fall asleep.

At first, I chalked it up to the fact that her work environment is tough, then I thought it was the weather, but now, months later, I am running out of ideas as to why she behaves the way she does. When I ask her what’s wrong, she gets upset and says it’s because I am not doing enough around the house. But to be honest, the only reason the house is clean or that we have something to eat is because I do the shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Any idea of what I can do to help her get out of this rut? I’m tired of feeling like a punching bag.

Punching Bag Partner

Alameda Post - a person sits alone on a log and looks out to sea

Dear Punching Bag Partner,

Based on your description, your girlfriend may be experiencing a bout of depression. Top signs of depression include: (a) irritability and frustration, (b) overwhelming sadness, (c) sleep disturbance including insomnia or sleeping too much, and (d) change in appetite, including eating too much or not eating enough.

You can offer support during this difficult time for your girlfriend, while maintaining boundaries and taking care of your own well-being. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Avoid asking her, “What’s wrong?” Questions like this provide negative validation to an individual who is suffering from depression, low self-worth, and often not knowing why they feel sad in the first place. Instead, ask, “Would you like to share what’s on your mind? I am here to listen.” She may not want to share, or know what to share, or have the energy to talk. Let her know that you will sit next to her and she does not need to talk if that is more comfortable for her.
  • When she talks, listen. Avoid talking back, offering advice, or minimizing her feelings. It is natural to want to tell people they should not feel a certain way, but minimizing their feelings is not empathy and it often validates their internal negative talk.
  • Let her know you want to support her. Ask her how you can show or offer support.
  • Encourage your girlfriend to get some movement and sunlight. Suggest that the two of you go on walks around the neighborhood. Exercise such as walking can help with insomnia and be good overall for our mental health. If she does not want to join you on a walk, get out there by yourself. It is a great way to take care of yourself.
  • Plan activities that you both enjoy doing together. Engaging in pleasurable activities outside of the house invites a change of scenery and increases the production level of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters (endorphins).
  • Encourage your girlfriend to seek professional help. Resources such as Psychology Today, Yelp, or checking with her insurance provider are great places to start the search.

Take care of yourself! Exercise and a balanced healthy diet are important self-care actions. And please be patient. Depression is a complex condition, and it may take some time for her to change behavior, recover, and feel better.

Alina Baugh is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Ask Alina is for informational purposes only. This article does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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