How To Be Happy: Beat depression – stop ruminating and start doing
Sunday 29 June 2008
Q. 'My boyfriend suffers from depression. How can I help him?' E.
Step 1: Understanding that we are all responsible for our own happiness and that it is not our fault that others feel depressed creates a healthy place from which to help. The amount of care you can sustain will depend on whether you are also looking after your own wellbeing. Remember that you too need replenishing and nurturing. You do not need to be with him 24 hours a day; restorative breaks will enable you to stay resilient. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a weekend away or spend time with friends. Patience is a virtue, but it will not help either of you if you become enslaved to his depression.
Step 2: What seems obvious to us as a strategy to aid recovery might not be at all obvious to someone feeling low. We might not realise what a huge effort change can be to someone who, through the negative lens of their depression, sees no point in doing anything to help themselves. Challenge feelings of helplessness by suggesting you both do something more constructive rather than ruminating on what keeps him feeling stuck. Show support by breaking down goals into manageable steps. Instead of saying "You need to take some exercise to feel better," you could try, "Why don't we walk through the park together?"
Step 3: When your boyfriend interprets events negatively, gently suggest that there are other perspectives you can both consider and that in choosing an alternative view, he might feel differently. It is important not to tell him that he is wrong, as this will reinforce feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness, provoking a circular argument, confounding you both. Separating the depression from your boyfriend ("That's not really you, that's the depression talking") will also help you both find practical ways to manage the symptoms.
Step 4: Remember that the roles of "sufferer" and "care-taker" can quickly become fixed, preventing both of you from changing. Think about the positions you have adopted and see if you can do anything differently to loosen their hold, to allow a more flexible, responsive way of relating to each other. Try Dorothy Rowe's Depression: The Way Out of your Prison for more practical ideas.
Cecilia is a psychologist and broadcaster. If you'd like her to answer your problems email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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