When you care about someone, it can be hard to see them down or depressed, especially if you’re not sure how to help. A quick Google search — “how to help my girlfriend with depression” comes back with more than 77 million results, and sorting through them, it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. Here is what you should know — and what steps to take — if your girlfriend is dealing with depression.
Is She Depressed or Just Sad?
We all have blue days, but if you want to help your girlfriend with depression, the first thing you need to do is learn the difference between depression and everyday sadness.
What’s the difference between the occasional blue mood and depression? While sad feelings may come and go due to personal or professional issues, depression can last months or years. In addition, depression usually includes a loss of interest in activities, uncontrollable crying jags, weight loss or gain, suicidal thoughts and/or trouble concentrating.
Depression can come in many different forms. It may be situational, caused by recent life events, or it may be kickstarted by chemical changes in the brain. Some types, such as persistent depressive disorder, have a long-lasting and constant presence, while others, like seasonal affective disorder, strike during certain times of the year. . Women are twice as likely to experience depression as men. A 2016 study found that where 9.3% of women have experienced depressive symptoms, only 5.4% of men have been diagnosed with the same.
The aforementioned symptoms are more than just a residual sadness — although long-lasting unhappiness is a common signal. The combination of symptoms often makes it hard to continue everyday life as normal. Regular activities such as showering, studying or going out with friends can become unusually difficult or tiring.
There is no single reason that some people experience depression, but one thing can be said about every single person who lives with these symptoms — depression is NOT their fault.
Depression Risk Factors
Risk factors for depression vary from person to person, but they can include:
- Genetics and family history — if depression runs in your girlfriend’s family, she may be at higher risk to develop the condition herself.
- Circadian rhythm disturbances — seasonal changes, not getting enough sleep and even things like daylight savings time can all contribute to depression symptoms.
- Individual brain chemistry — Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. In some people, their individual brain chemistry makes them more prone to depression and other mental illnesses.
- Vitamin deficiency — If you don’t have enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, it can make you more prone to developing depression. A lack of Vitamin D, for example, could be tied to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
- Hormone levels — Hormonal changes caused by puberty, menopause, menstruation or the introduction of artificial hormones like those found in birth control can all increase your risk of developing depression.
- Stress levels and life experiences — High stress levels and traumatic events can all increase your risk for developing depression in your lifetime.
- Substance abuse — Substance abuse often occurs alongside depression and other mental illnesses as people try to self-medicate or use drugs and alcohol to escape from their negative feelings.
Getting help at a depression treatment center in Illinois or one more local to you offers can help your girlfriend or other loved one treat and manage their depression symptoms. If substance abuse is also present, things become more complicated. The comorbidity of mental illness and substance abuse creates a downward spiral, a cycle of depression and abuse that can be nearly impossible to escape from without help.
Serious Concerns to Keep an Eye out For
If your girlfriend is dealing with depression, you may need to be on the lookout for more extreme concerns, like suicide risk. Understand the warning signs to ensure your alarm bells start ringing if the following occur:
- Obsession or regular conversation about death
- Verbalizing wanting to commit suicide
- Developing a specific suicide plan
- Using phrases that indicate she would like to end her life or that others would be better off without her
- Suddenly transitioning from depression to peace and happiness without explanation
How to Help My Girlfriend with Depression: Things You Can Do
If your girlfriend is clinically depressed and not just experiencing the down day or two that everyone has, you probably want an answer to “how to help my girlfriend with depression.”
To Help Your Loved One You can:
- Suggest mindfulness practices, such as yoga and meditation. When people learn to focus on the present through mindfulness, they often feel more relaxed and less stressed.
- Encourage her to talk to you or other supportive people. Humans are social animals, and depression makes people withdraw. Help her see the value in interacting with others.
- Suggest therapy for depression. Your girlfriend may benefit from short-term counseling. Or, she may need therapy over the long term. Remind her that there’s never anything wrong with admitting that she needs help for a mental health issue.
- Encourage her to seek addiction treatment. If your girlfriend is trying to bury her bad feelings in drugs and alcohol, professional treatment is necessary in the form of simultaneous help for depression and substance abuse. Without help, both problems can grow much worse.
Do’s and Don’ts When Helping People Struggling With Depression
When you’re trying to figure out how to help someone with depression, it can be tricky to know what to say. This is particularly true when it’s someone close to you, such as a significant other. You obviously want to say the right things without unintentionally saying something that may be unhelpful.
Don’t worry — the most important thing is that you’re trying your best. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind to guide you toward constructive dialogue.
Do’s: Six Helpful Ways to Support Your Girlfriend
- Encourage her to seek, and stick with, therapy: This may entail helping her research and find the best counseling in your area. She may want someone to go to therapy with her and offer a supportive presence, or she may need a nudge to continue going to therapy even when she doesn’t feel like it.
- Do your research: The more you know, the more you can help. Take the time to read about depression, understand its symptoms and consider what the experience is like for your girlfriend. You’ll learn helpful strategies and gain valuable insight into the struggle she’s facing.
- Find practical ways to help: People battling depression often find they lack the energy or motivation to perform activities — even necessary everyday to-do’s. Whether it’s giving a hand with groceries, cooking a meal or giving a quick spruce-up to the home, look for specific, tangible ways to step in and help.
- Be patient: Depression often takes time to heal or may linger long-term. An exciting activity or helpful counseling appointment won’t end her depression overnight — it takes time. Extend patience and let her know that you’re here to support her journey without pressure for immediate improvement.
- Extend empathy: While it may be frustrating to experience your girlfriend canceling on you last minute, withdrawing emotionally or declining social invitations, try to put yourself in her shoes. Understand that even simple activities likely feel like an enormous effort, and being around people may feel overwhelming. Verbalize your compassion and empathy, giving her the freedom to opt for another activity or take her time to express her emotions.
- Take care of yourself: In your well-meaning efforts to care for your girlfriend, don’t neglect your own self-care. Take a step back and recharge your own batteries when you need to. Make sure you have outlets to safely express your own emotions and experiences. Pursue your own hobbies, friendships and health.
Don’ts: Six Actions to Avoid
- Minimizing her experience: While they might seem like helpful phrases, things like “you’ve got so much to be grateful for” or “just focus on the positives” can do more harm than good. These statements imply that depression is your girlfriend’s fault for being negative when depression is much more than merely being sad or discontent.
- Advising against medication: If a doctor has prescribed medication for your partner, never try to interfere with her treatment or encourage her to get better on her own.
- Avoiding discussion of suicide: Noticing any signs or symptoms that your girlfriend may be suicidal? Don’t be afraid to talk to her directly, and if necessary, get others involved. Broaching the topic may feel frightening, but opening up the door can make a huge difference.
- Taking it personally: When you love someone, it’s natural to want to make them happy. Don’t take it personally that your girlfriend is struggling with depression or may be withdrawing emotionally. It doesn’t reflect on you. Her struggle is not your fault.
- Giving unwanted advice: From the outside looking in, you may have tons of great advice you think will help your girlfriend feel better. However, your advice may feel impossible, unhelpful or unwanted to someone struggling with depression. Unless asked, it’s best to simply listen and offer support and encouragement.
- Comparing your experiences: Unless you have also dealt with depression, avoid saying things like “I know how you feel” or “I’ve been through this too.” Your effort to relate and identify with your girlfriend may end up making her feel less understood or like you’re minimizing her depression. Instead, validate her experience with words like, “I can’t imagine how hard this is, but know that you’re not alone.”
Transformative Addiction and Depression Treatment
Gateway is an addiction treatment center in Chicago, Illinois. Here, our addiction specialists get to the root of our residents’ substance abuse issues in order to help them heal on every level. We understand how addiction and depression often go hand-in-hand, and we provide effective treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders.
Our services include:
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
- Yoga and reiki
You or a loved one can rise up from the damaging effects of drug and alcohol addiction when you call us for help. Our compassionate team is ready to guide you toward healing and recovery. Reach out today at 877-381-6538.