READER’S QUESTION: "My boyfriend and I have been together for almost four years. I've known for quite some time that he's the man I want to spend my life with. However, when he lost his wallet at a sports bar recently, he started to become very distant. I know replacing cards and ID can be stressful, but I had a feeling something else was going on. Something involving me. When I finally asked him, he said his distance had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his current mental health. Apparently, a few things have been weighing on his mind for a while (finances, self-esteem issues, etc), and loosing his wallet was a nail in the coffin that led him into a depression about these things. I knew he had a history of depression and anxiety before, but then he tells me he's had waves of this depression that I (or anyone for that matter) never knew about because he hid it so well. He tells me there's nothing I can do, and he just has to get through it. I'm not upset that he's feeling this way – I'm upset that he felt this way and chose to hide it from me. And I get it, he was hiding it from everyone, but we're supposed to be planning a life together. How do you help someone who doesn't want help?"
EVIE’S ADVICE: Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for men to hide their feelings of depression or anxiety. They are motivated to do this for many reasons. Maybe they think men are expected to be stoic and in control at all times, so it's a shameful thing to have mental health struggles. Maybe they think they can fix it themselves. Maybe they are embarrassed to ask for help. Maybe they think if they ignore the problem, it will go away. Maybe they think it's just related to a temporary situation, like a stressful period at work, and they'll be fine as soon as this period is over. Maybe they are afraid to be vulnerable.
It's legitimate to be upset that he is hiding his true feelings from you, but it's a good thing that you found out about the situation now. Try not to be mad at him, as this will likely backfire in him hiding even more things from you in the future for fear of this reaction. Assure him that you want to support and encourage him in times of trouble, just like he would want to support and encourage you when you're stressed or upset.
Tell him you want both of you to be able to trust each other enough to be honest about who you are and how you're feeling.
There is a very tactful and loving conversation to be had about how you want both of you to be able to trust each other enough to be honest about who you are and how you're feeling – the good and the bad, because that is what is promised in the marriage vows and required in marriage to make it last.
You also don't want to come in with all these ideas of what he can do to "fix" his depression because, most likely, all he will hear is that you think he is defective and you want to fix him, and any shame he might feel about his depression will only get worse. You will need to carefully feel out the appropriate level of just reminding him you love him and you're there for him, and offering practical help.
There are many, many options available to manage and alleviate depression, and many of them are "all natural." Strength training is particularly good at alleviating depression in men. Getting enough vitamin D, having good gut health, and getting enough sleep all contribute to better mental health. Talking to a counselor to resolve any root causes of depression as well as to learn practical coping mechanisms is always good. If he doesn’t feel comfortable going to therapy, encourage him to read or listen to an older male mentor like Tony Robbins to get some external perspective and motivation. Lifestyle changes and mental framework changes can make a huge impact on depression, but they do take time to build up and they have to be maintained. And if he truly needs medication, that exists too.
Because he has a history of depression and anxiety, this is not just a one-time occurrence that will never happen again. Your relationship will continue to be affected by his mental health, and his withdrawal (which might not be consciously done as withdrawing is normal in depression) will likely happen again.
You can be the best girlfriend in the universe, but if a man isn’t happy with where he is financially and in his personal life, it’s not something you can change on your own, so try not to take it as a personal failure or attack. You can’t force someone, even the person you’re closest with on this earth, to accept help. In order for his mental health to improve, he has to want that change himself. But once he does, you can stand beside him every step of the way, supporting him and cheering him on.
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