My son has struggled with a kind of constant but not so severe depression for a while. He has a lot of trouble moving forward, being productive, and is often just down. He is at the age where he should be starting shidduchim [matchmaker dating]and many of his friends are dating. He has been working with a therapist and had been getting better but recently is not doing as well. His therapist has suggested that he see a psychiatrist to possibly go on medication. My wife is very against this because it is one thing to be a little depressed but telling a prospective girl that you are "on meds" while dating is a big deal. She thinks he should stick with the therapy and if needed once he is married, he can get medication. I definitely have those concerns as well but I'm not so sure he will be able to date properly and present himself at his best in his current state. We feel stuck, what is your opinion on this? Is there something else you could suggest as an option?
Your question is not an uncommon one. You are faced with competing needs. You want your son to have access to everything that he needs, but you’re concerned that being on medication may detrimentally affect his dating and marriage possibilities.
On a basic level, both your wife and you have the same goal: for your son to be happy and successful in life. Your perspectives are a bit different though. Your wife seems to feel that being married (to the “right” girl) will bring enough happiness and success to your son to negate any disadvantages caused by his feelings of depression. You, however, are concerned that not having the proper treatment may cause more unhappiness in the long run. In other words, you are concerned with the disadvantages of your son not being properly medicated.
Your wife’s concerns seem to relate to the difference between your son’s marriage to someone who is okay dating a guy who is on medication versus his marriage to someone who is not. Certainly the field is narrowed once girls who would not date someone on medication are eliminated. The question is to what degree this really limits your son’s potential for a positive and happy marriage.
One could make the argument that being married to someone who would not be okay with dating someone on medication can lead to larger marital issues than being married to someone who would date someone on medication. In the former instance, the issue of trust can be significant. Once married, a girl may feel that she was trapped under false pretenses. In addition, someone who refuses to date anyone who is on medication may be less able to handle mental health issues in general.
However, your wife’s point is well taken. I notice that you discussed your wife’s thoughts as well as your own, and you mentioned the therapist’s suggestion. However, you didn’t say anything about your son’s point of view. I wonder if this is an indication that your specific shidduch [matchmaking] process is parent-centric. Are the parents essentially running the show together with the shadchun [matchmaker], with the boy and girl simply following through? If this is the case, perhaps many of the girls who won’t date boys on medication don’t actually have an issue with it themselves. Perhaps you yourself wouldn’t want your son to date a girl who is (or will be) on medication.
When the prospective bride and groom are not involved in the entire process, it can be very difficult to discern fiction from reality. Obviously you want to protect your son, and you want to help guide him in the right direction. However, he may be getting the message that being depressed decreases his value, and that being on medication would further devalue him.
I don’t know whether you have discussed these issues and thoughts with your son. He is the person who will be most affected by the decisions that you make. You mentioned your concerns about your son being able to appropriately date, and to be in the proper state of mind. Have you discussed this with him? How does he feel about this? How does he feel about the possibility of being on medication and the effect of this on his marriage prospects?
As far as seeing a psychiatrist is concerned, this is what I often tell people: What harm is there in making the appointment? Once the initial consult is done, the psychiatrist will make a recommendation, but you have no obligation to follow it. If you accept a prescription, you don’t need to fill it. If you do, you can decide whether to begin taking the medication. At the very least, the three of you will have the opportunity to have your questions and concerns addressed.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317