Adam writes in: My girlfriend is grieving her mother after 14 years. She lost her mother when she was 19 and now at the age of 33 is going through an intense period of grief and depression. She has said that it’s always been hard for her, but about two weeks ago her feeling became so intense that she feels she’s not able to give energy to anything else. She works long hours at her job and is able to maintain a success in her work, but she feels that she cannot do anything else. She fears that she will always feel like this, and it will disrupt her hopes of eventually having kids and happy family. She has now asked me for space, saying that she can’t have a relationship right now. I told her I care for her very much and that I will be here for her, but we are not really in contact now. Is there anything I can do?
Bob Baugher, PhD., responds: The reasons for depression are often difficult to sort out because it often involves multiple causes such as: sleep problems, nutrition deficits (not eating healthy foods), genetic predisposition, excess stress, hormonal changes, traumatic brain injury, and, of course, loss. You state that your girlfriend is presently “going through an intense period of grief and depression.” It could be that she is experiencing depression in addition to the death of her mother, but it may appear to her to be nearly totally grief-related. Does this make sense? As you can see, her depression is very real and she needs help, especially in light of the intense demands of her job. Perhaps the best support you can give her at this time is to continue to give her some space. However, in the meantime, you might consider doing some homework to find a counselor who knows about grief and loss and can help her sort through the likely multiple causes of her depression. You can contact your city’s local crisis line and a mental health center.