If you’re dealing with a depressed girlfriend, here’s how to help without making it worse.
I’ve been dating my girlfriend for almost a year. She is 25 and has had depression much of her life.
She tells me she is hopeless, wants to die, and is not sure how much longer she can go on like this. She sees a therapist and psychiatrist regularly.
When I ask, she’ll tell me that it wasn’t this dark when we started dating. (I think?) She can recognize how the recent events may have impacted her emotionally as well. I get confused and frustrated when she says things like “there is no hope and it’s not going to ever get better” because she’ll also tell me that it wasn’t like this a few months ago.
Is it normal for someone who has severe depression to not be able to acknowledge and recognize that she wasn’t feeling this hopeless not that long ago?
Is there anything I can do to help her see past those blinders?
I have hope for her and I want her to be able to see that there is hope since she didn’t always feel like this. I am aware that’s not my job and that I can’t make her see anything.
I would also appreciate any other feedback on how I can support her. I’ve been working on acknowledging her feelings when she says things like “I don’t want to bother you” “You’d be better off without me” and other things that are 100% not true from my perspective.
First, I’m not a licensed medical professional and this is not medical advice. If you or a loved one requires professional counseling, therapy or other intervention, please consult the appropriate professionals.
I’m glad your depressed girlfriend already has a treatment team in place. If you hadn’t mentioned she was seeking treatment for depression, I would have suggested that you help her get in contact with the appropriate mental health professionals as your first step.
Just making the first call to get help can be really, really hard when you’re clinically depressed.
With that out of the way, I’m really sorry you and your girlfriend are going through this.
When someone finds themselves in a relationship with a clinically depressed partner, they can fall into a few nasty traps that don’t make the situation better at all, so I commend you on trying to get answers for how to help your depressed girlfriend.
Falling into patterns of codependency is a big problem for depressed partners. If you’re naturally a caretaker type of person, the subconscious fact you have a new “project,” namely “Help Fix My Girlfriend’s Depression” can be a really, really seductive idea.
Suddenly, you have renewed purpose in life. Fixing your girlfriend’s depression.
This attitude will cause you heartache to no end.
In the case of clinical depression, wondering how you can fix your girlfriend’s depression is like googling how you can cure your girlfriend’s cancer using only the powers of your mind.
Not exactly a research-supported strategy I would bet on in a pinch.
While you didn’t cause her depression, can’t cure it and it’s not your responsibility, I deeply respect your desire to help her or at least not make things worse.
So, with that said, here’s 21 ways you can help your girlfriend with depression.
1. Quit arguing, disagreeing or trying to “reason with” her negative thought distortions.
Never argue or disagree with whatever feeling or intense and overriding hopeless judgement your depressed girlfriend is making in the moment.
Just quietly listen to her, look in her direction and let her talk it out if she wants to open up. Hug her if she’s open to that.
Don’t add your opinion, advice, helpful suggestions or any analysis. Just empathize and be understanding (even if you really don’t and can’t actually understand).
Try your best not to sound patronizing in any way.
The more you disagree with her about how bad she thinks things are, the more obvious it will be to her that you can’t understand her, which will make her feel even more alone and isolated. This is a good explanation of what depression might be like for her.
That goes along with my next point.
2. Completely abandon the idea of “cheering her up.”
When you try to do things to try and make your depressed girlfriend happy, you are implying that the way she is right now, in this moment is not right for you.
The underlying message behind having someone try and cheer her up is that she needs to be tended to or fixed somehow.
Also, you’re implying that she’s experiencing a feeling of sadness.
In the case of clinical depression, sadness might not actually be her current experience at all.
Your depressed girlfriend might actually feel numb, nothing, or a nagging emptiness. She might be extremely frustrated with her current inability to feel things at all.
Clinical depression is simply not like being, “really, really sad” as people often imagine when they attempt to empathize.
Sometimes it’s more like, “I can’t feel anything.” Sometimes this includes body sensations since everything feels dulled.
Imagine you have suddenly gone deaf. Now, imagine if people, in a well-meaning attempt to help you hear again, suggest that if you would just humor them by listening to different sounds, then everything would be okay and you would be back to normal.
Every time you see them, they tirelessly try to play different music in an effort to bring your hearing back.
Seems a little silly, right?
At first, you might be flattered that they are trying to help you. Soon you would probably feel annoyed.
Since they seem so intent on helping, you might try to explain the flaw in their plan by explaining that it doesn’t matter what music they play— the problem is that you can’t actually HEAR IT.
They just keep bringing new music anyway.
After awhile, you would probably want to spend less time with them since it is so obvious that they cannot understand you and they won’t stop bringing you new sounds to try and jog you back to full hearing.
You might also feel embarrassed that you weren’t able to please them by using their solutions and feeling the way they expect you to feel.
That’s what it’s like for her when you try and help her remove these “blinders” you say she’s wearing.
In her experience, things ARE worse than they were before. The premise that you can show her that things aren’t so bad simply because YOU believe that is the case invalidates her experience and misses the point that in her world, things really ARE that bad.
You’re still under the illusion that you can do something to magically talk her out of this and that if she would just accept YOUR perception of reality, she would feel better and the depression would go away.
Abandon the concept of “helping” and you’ll automatically feel safer to her because instead of spewing out positivity or ideas, you’ll just be there.
“Being there” might be how to help your depressed girlfriend and all she really wants or needs from you right now.
That ability to just be there and empathize can be the difference between a depressed person cutting off their entire support system and at least keeping someone around who actually gets it or at least doesn’t make the feeling of hopelessness worse.
Don’t underestimate how precious it might be for her if you would just stay in your own lane and be present with her.
Depression is lonely enough on it’s own without a troop of well-wishers who continually suggest that if you would just do something different, you would feel better. Clinical depression is just not that simple.