I think my boyfriend might be depressed. He's irritable and seems to be in a rut. He doesn't want to hang out with anyone and he isn’t sleeping well. It’s affecting our relationship and I don’t know what to do.

It sounds like you could be right about your boyfriend being depressed. The question is whether it is an attack of the 'blues'- a normal depression which will pass quite quickly and which everyone experiences from time to time - or a more severe and low state of mind - lasting much longer and which may be clinical depression.

Because of the nature of depression, it is likely to target the very resources in your relationship which can normally get you both through the difficult times - the ability to communicate, to laugh, to get distracted by happy activities.

And because you are so attuned to your partner, his negative or reduced communication will cause a hurt response in you. It can then feel very 'chicken and egg' - is it the relationship itself that is problematic - or is it depression making it problematic? This is a very common confusion when people are having relationship problems.

Many different behaviours are associated with depression. Described since Celtic times, it was Winston Churchill who popularised the term "black dog" in his frank discussion of his own depression. Even today - although we have had many public programmes normalising depression as a treatable illness - one of the big challenges is for the sufferer to separate out a self defeating sense of failure and shame - from an urgent need for help.

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Whilst the partner who is struggling with depression needs support more than ever - sometimes they will lash out at those closest to them, whilst others withdraw into sadness and lack of motivation. Some will self medicate with alcohol or drugs. Simply put, the person you love will not be himself or herself and the symptoms will be putting a huge handbrake on the quality of your life together.

The challenge is that as well as dealing with so many behaviours which make communicating feel impossible, the single most important thing that can be done by you is to keep communicating. Helping your partner to accept that there is no shame or stigma in seeking help will be one of the major and all-important steps.

Talk to your partner about your concerns and remind him of the genuine reasons you love him. Offer to accompany him to a health practitioner if he would like you to - and support him in considering the treatment he feels most comfortable with. Depression can be a chemical imbalance in the brain, which is why it can sometimes take anti-depressants to rectify it. Whilst this treatment might be vital for some, is not for everyone. There are also wide ranges of natural remedies that can help relieve symptoms. A combination of treatment and counselling which helps identify triggers has been found to be especially helpful.

The World Health Organisation has described clinical depression as the fourth leading cause of death and disability in the western world. Leading edge research has developed treatments which can alleviate depression and restore the sufferer back to wellbeing.
To promote health in our own communities we each need to do our part to remove any stigma from such a very common condition, which, left untreated, can cause so much pain and heartache for all involved.

Remember that depression is a treatable illness and not a life sentence. It will pass.

As well as finding out information and giving your partner your love and support, don't forget to nurture yourself with your own supports and information.

Despite the stress of it all, the newly opened lines of communication between you both when depression is identified can go on to create a deeper and more meaningful relationship. A reminder to you both that blue skies can sit just above those passing grey mountainous clouds.

If you or someone you know needs help with deperession contact the Depression Helpline on 0800111757 or visit www.depression.org.nz.

- www.nzherald.co.nz