What to Say to a Depressed Boyfriend, Girlfriend
Knowing what to say to a depressed boyfriend, girlfriend or partner can be difficult. You want to show your support and let them know you're there, but you don't want to say the wrong thing and upset them. It's always better in this situation to say something rather than not acknowledge their illness, but what if you can never find the right words? Blaming and shaming can make someone you love with depression feel even worse about themselves, so tact is essential. Here's what to say to a depressed boyfriend or girlfriend, as well as what not to say.
What Not to Say to a Depressed Boyfriend or Girlfriend
There is often no “right” thing to say to a depressed boyfriend or girlfriend, and every person is different. However, there are plenty of wrong things to say.
- Don’t say: “Why are you depressed?”
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is a serious medical condition that's different from sadness or grief. It can affect anyone – even someone who appears to live in ideal circumstances. The many complex factors that play a role in depression include biochemistry, genetics, personality, and environment, so depression does not occur for any one specific reason. Asking someone why they are depressed can make them feel frustrated and misunderstood – especially if you tell them they have "nothing to be depressed about."
Say instead: “Do you think something has triggered these symptoms?”
During times when your partner's depression is particularly bad, you may notice patterns emerging – they may experience more depression symptoms at certain times of the month or year, or during a stressful period at work, for example. Your partner may also have become depressed partly as a result of a traumatic event or something that happened in their past. While you should never assume there is a reason for depression (just as there is often no reason for cancer or heart disease), you can gently question your partner to see if they want to talk about any contributing factors you could help them deal with.
- Don’t say: “But you were so happy yesterday/last week!”
Some people experience "episodes" of depression and feel "normal" for the rest of the time. If there's a bipolar disorder component to your partner's illness, they may even feel elevated during times they are not depressed. This can be confusing and difficult to keep up with, but you should know that no one struggles more with the inconsistency than your partner.
Say instead: “I’m sorry you’re going through a bad patch. Can I help?”
All cases of depression are different, and no two people will experience the same symptoms at the same level of severity. You should never compare your partner’s depression to anyone else’s – or compare their current state to how they were feeling on a different day.
- Don’t say: “Is it me?”
Depression is an illness, and although a traumatic life event or situation can act as a trigger, it isn't always "about" something.
Say instead: "I know this is an illness, and it isn't about me, but If I ever do or say anything that makes you feel worse, then please tell me."
Blaming yourself for your partner’s depression takes the spotlight off them and puts it on you, which is not helpful to either of you. You are not solely responsible for anyone’s mental illness, even if they tell you otherwise ("My Girlfriend, Boyfriend Has Depression: Is It Me or Their Problem?").
- Don’t say: “But you’re taking medication!”
In many cases, depression is a condition that's managed with medication rather than cured. Your boyfriend or girlfriend may be taking antidepressant medication, but that doesn't mean they're going to feel better straight away. Antidepressants can take up to six weeks to have any effect, and they sometimes make depression symptoms worse before they get better. Even people who have been taking medication for a long time may still experience symptoms of depression or have "relapses."
Say instead: “How does the medication make you feel? Should we book a trip to see your doctor?”
When someone has depression, you should always ask questions rather than confront them with facts. Rather than stating, "You're taking medication," which could make your partner feel bad that they're not responding as well as they'd hoped, asking how they feel about how well their treatment is working opens the conversation up and allows them to have their say. By saying "we" rather than "you," you also identify your partner's depression as a shared problem rather than something they have to deal with on their own.
When You Don’t Know What to Say to a Depressed Partner
There will be times when you don't know what to say to your depressed boyfriend or girlfriend. There will also be occasions when you don't have the answers, and that's okay. It is not your job to "fix" anyone's depression. Your only responsibility is to be kind, show compassion and provide support – both for your partner and for yourself.
Smith, E. (2022, January 4). What to Say to a Depressed Boyfriend, Girlfriend, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/relationships/what-to-say-to-a-depressed-boyfriend-girlfriend