Depression has been called the “common cold” of mental health problems. Estimates are that 20% of the American population may experience depression at some time or other during their lives.
Depression is different than simply having “the blues;” everyone experiences periods of time when they feel like the wind is out of their sails, and that’s not necessarily something to worry about. The blues usually go away after a few days.
Depression has a number of features that are more significant than just feeling a little melancholy. All of those symptoms can impact a relationship. People experiencing depression typically find that there is a change in their appetites: they may eat more (or sometimes lose all interest in food) or they may lose interest in sex. Things that gave them pleasure at one time or another may hold little interest for them.
Depressed people often have less energy for day-to-day activities. There is often a general lack of enthusiasm; they may feel emotionally unavailable. Depression often involves feelings of hopelessness and isolation. If you are the experiencing depression, you may feel discouraged about your relationship and feel like you want to call it quits. Avoid the temptation to talk about separation or divorce when you’re in the grip of these dark thoughts.
• Don’t blame or scare yourself. Your partner’s depression doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that your relationship is doomed. Don’t take it personally
• Be supportive, but don’t fall into the trap of trying to fix your partner. Listen to him and encourage him to talk. Let him know you love him.
• Don’t discount his feelings with lots of happy talk, but let him know that you’re hopeful about the future.
• See if doing something fun will help. Having enough fun is important in any relationship.
• Know when to seek professional help. The above suggestions can help with milder forms of depression, but more serious forms aren’t likely to respond to home remedies. If symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, urge your partner to find a counselor.
• If he’s depressed enough to talk about injuring himself, get help right away. Take any talk about suicide very seriously.
There are a number of good medications available that treat depression. Anti-depressants are not magic cures, but they often help. Either psychiatrists or general practitioners may prescribe them. That’s fine, but urge your partner to talk with his doc about side effects.
The class of anti-depressants called SSRIs (including Prozac, Paxil and other drugs) can cause sexual problems in up to 70% of the men who take them. Talk about this with the prescribing physician. Some docs don’t take complaints about decreased sexual desire seriously when the complaints come from gay men. If that happens, insist that you be treated with respect – or find a new doctor.
There’s no reason to be afraid of depression, but there is every reason to take it seriously. Help is available -- use it.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.