Suicide is the largest cause of death for men under 35.
This mental health awareness month, we’ve covered how to talk about your mental health, how to know when to opt for therapy, including online therapy, and the many uncommon mental health conditions worth having on your radar. But, question: how do you help a boyfriend who’s depressed?
While more women will suffer from some form of mental health condition at some point in their life than men – one in every five, as opposed to one in every eight – sadly, far more men take their own lives as a result of said mental illnesses.
According to the Office for National Statistics, three in four suicides (76%) in the UK are carried out by men, making suicide the largest cause of death for men under 35.
So, we’ve asked Nathaniel Smithies, Founder and CEO of PlusGuidance, an online counselling service, for some tips on how to help your partner through a difficult time.
“Seeing your loved one struggle with their mental health can leave you at a loss as to what to do and how to help,” Smithies explains. “Your boyfriend may feel distant, uninterested and at times even agitated, but you mustn’t put too much pressure or blame on yourself for how he’s feeling. Equally, you mustn’t blame him for how he’s feeling, either,” he continues.
Like helping someone who’s suicidal or talking to any loved one who’s struggling, it’s a process that will affect you and your general wellbeing, too, so remember, practicing self care is key to being able to support others.
Keep reading for some simple steps you can take to help a boyfriend if he’s depressed. And remember – you are not alone.
How to help a boyfriend who’s depressed: 5 key steps
1. Communication is key
“A key warning sign that your boyfriend is dealing with depression or anxiety is noticeable lack of communication,” shares Smithies. He advises not letting this worry you, but talking to your partner and letting him know that you are there for him.
“Not every conversation has to be about how he is feeling, as that can feel claustrophobic. Open-ended questions are a great way to get him to tell you how he’s feeling – plus what you can do to help,” he explains.
“By avoiding questions that require yes or no answers, it gives him the opportunity to talk about what’s really on his mind. When your boyfriend recognises that you can communicate without any pressure, he may confide in you more often.”
2. Be gentle
Remember that it’s important to generate open and relaxed conversation with your loved one.
“On a good day, your boyfriend may want to speak openly and frankly about his feelings, but on other days, he may just say a few words or seem very defensive,” Smithies explains.
Top tip: actions sometimes speak louder than words. “If you pressure him, he may withdraw and not answer at all. Sometimes, you don’t even need to speak – a hug can sometimes say far more than a list of questions,” he continues.
3. Don’t overthink things
Seeing anyone you love suffer will likely impact you. “This is completely natural,” shares Smithies.
Bottom line: there’s no way to know the exact causes of his thoughts or behaviour, so there’s no point getting worked up or anxious trying to guess,” he warns.
Naturally, this is easier said than done, but do know that studies indicate that male sufferers of mental health problems, like depression or anxiety, show their emotions through angry or seemingly irrational outbursts. “Try your best not to take it personally if this happens, and remember that his behaviour may very well be irrational, but is caused by an underlying issue – not directly by you,” Smithies shares.
4. Respect their feelings
Remember, if your boyfriend confides in you, he’s made a leap into the unknown.
“It requires bravery for anyone to speak out about how they are feeling – most of us have some sense of fear about how other people will judge us for it,” Smithies shares.
5. Remind him of his value
When dealing with depression or anxiety, a key symptom is a skewed sense of reality.”This perception will establish certain negative core beliefs about oneself, such as ‘nobody loves me’ or ‘I’m useless.’,” Smithies explains.
By gaining an understanding of these negative core beliefs, you can keep reminding him, with evidence, that these beliefs are not true. “Subtle reminders such as writing notes or complimenting him will go a long way,” he suggests. “You may feel that he isn’t listening or it won’t make a difference, but it really is a glimmer of light in what is a very dark place for him.”
6. Little gestures go a long way
When depressed, the smallest of tasks can seem like an enormous challenge. “Even getting out of bed can seem unachievable,” explains Smithies.
Top tip: it’s easy to get caught up in helping your boyfriend with big gestures, but you shouldn’t underestimate everyday tasks. Even something like making dinner will take a huge amount of weight from his shoulders, the CEO says.
“Encouraging him to engage with these tasks is important too, but don’t be resentful if he doesn’t react,” he advises.
7. Remind him that help is out there
Knowing how to help a depressed boyfriend can feel overwhelming, but try and remind your boyfriend that, now more than ever, talking about mental health issues is encouraged and accepted. A problem shared is a problem halved, right?
“Telling him that you love him, that he is worthy of support, and that he is no less of a man to accept help is also important,” shares Smithies. “Let him know that it’s normal now for men to seek help to move past their problems more quickly – talking to a therapist who is qualified specifically to deal with depression and anxiety could really help,” he explains.
It’s worth stressing that therapy also offers a confidential space where your boyfriend can get support from a professional and objective source. “As much as we all want to help our loved ones, it’s important to remember that it is impossible to be unbiased and objective in the way we communicate with them,” Smithies concludes.