Watching someone you love unravel is hard work.
He is angry all the time. He is impatient and I don’t know what’s wrong. He’s not sleeping. He’s anxious. The other day was his first day off work in three weeks. He started drinking at 8am. When I ask him if he’s okay, he gets angry. When his friends ask him if he’s okay, he shuts down. If he’s not working, he’s not doing anything. He doesn’t talk anymore. He’s just stressed or asleep or drinking. All. The. Time. I don’t know what to do. – Nicole, 29.
Almost overnight, we made the transition into serious problems. (Well, millennials did at least)
Maybe it’s because mental health is, finally, receiving the attention it deserves. We are more aware of the signs and symptoms of trouble than ever before.
Maybe it’s because life’s problems are more serious. Heavier. There is more talk about financial stress, uncertain futures, kids with problems, global insecurity, endless expenses. Suddenly phrases like depression, anxiety, stress, substance abuse are sneaking into our discussions.
These conversations, particularly when they’re about a partner like in the passage above, are brushed with helplessness.
Nicole is 29 and she is worried her partner has depression. She’s worried he’s turning to alcohol, instead of to her, to deal with it.
There is a huge gender gap, not in depression itself, but in the number of suicides committed. Why? Because men are not as likely to recognise or respond to feelings of distress. Instead, particularly Australian men, have a tendency to shut down. Remain stoic. Not discuss their feelings or the ways in which they’re struggling. This means the way they do find to deal with it is more dramatic and, too often, final.
So how to help someone, who will not help themselves?
It will be difficult and frustrating and some days will be better than others. I have experienced depression, and eventually sought out help. But that was after my partner and I had been through some really, really tough conversations. And a lot of used tissues.
Here’s what worked from someone who has been there. Here’s how you can help, and also protect yourself:
First off, don’t take it personally
This is easy to say, but very hard to do. Like many women, I have suffered from depression in the past. My partner at the time found it difficult to believe that the problem was not somehow related to the relationship. That it was not their fault. “How could you feel like this if you’re happy in your relationship?” “People who are in love don’t feel like this.”