Experts estimate that 15 percent of adults will experience depression at some point. Depression often recurs, and people with the illness have an average of four or five episodes during their lifetime.
Depression’s emotional, mental and physical toll can dampen relationships, but there are ways to weather the storms. If you love a depressed person and put in the effort, you might shine more light and warmth on your relationship than ever before.
Here are eight things you should know when you’re dating someone with depression.
1. Depression Is Treatable
Treating depression isn’t always easy, but hold onto hope. There are many medical treatments and lifestyle changes proven to help people with depression, including:
- Therapy to talk through feelings or reframe reactions.
- Medications, including antidepressants and mood stabilizers.
- Light therapy to regulate the body’s natural day and night rhythms.
- Healthy habits, including exercise, nutrition, acupuncture and following a soothing nighttime routine.
- Establishing a daily self-care practice with activities such as listening to music, meditation and writing in a journal.
You can help your partner stick with therapies by offering rides to appointments, cooking healthy meals and going on walks. Consider couples therapy if you think it would help both of you.
2. Just Being There Shows Your Support
Demonstrate compassion by listening to your partner and learning what having depression is like for them.
Even though you may not relate personally to how they feel, work to be open-minded and accept these feelings. This kind of empathy goes a long way to help a person who is struggling.
3. Dating Someone with Depression Means It’s (Probably) Not About You
It’s easy to feel hurt when the person you love — and try so hard to help — isn’t reciprocating, or seems to randomly resist your affections. When your partner is depressed, these incidents are not random, and they most likely have nothing to do with you.
Don’t take it personally, and remember that your partner’s perspective can may be coming from a difficult mindset. People with depression can struggle with guilt, feel worthless and focus on their perceived faults. Nearly 50 percent of depressed people also have anxiety.
Try to keep this added anxiety in mind when your partner reacts strongly to an argument or pushes you away, and incorporate our helpful tips for when you’re dating someone with anxiety.
4. Depression Is More Than Mood
Depression doesn’t just change how people feel emotionally. It can cause physical and mental symptoms, too. Common problems include:
- Sleeping a lot or very little.
- Fluctuating appetite and weight.
- Feeling aches and pains throughout the body.
- Struggling to concentrate or make decisions.
- Suffering from a lack of energy.
- Moving slowly or in unintended ways.
- Losing interest in sex.
Antidepressants can also cause sexual problems, including low libido, inability to orgasm and erectile dysfunction.
It’s important to talk to the doctor about physical symptoms and medication side effects, because there are effective ways to treat them.
5. Lending a Hand Is Huge
Symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, cognitive problems and sleeplessness can make getting anything done a daunting task for someone who’s having a depressive episode. The mere act of getting out of bed can seem impossible.
You can make a meal, pick up prescriptions, take out the trash or walk the dog. These gestures take minimal effort for you, but can help ease the monumental burden your partner may be feeling.
6. Plans Will Change
Making plans together is part of the fun of dating. But while you both were probably looking forward to that next concert or weekend trip, your partner may have to change plans without warning.
For example, depressed people can lose interest in activities they normally enjoy, and they may cancel plans to avoid fatigue from too much stimulation or social interaction. They may feel disappointed about missing out just like you do, but also feel the additional burden of guilt or fear you will reject them.
You need to be flexible. If your date cancels, ask if they still want your company to do something more relaxed. You can skip the party for pajamas and a movie. But if your date needs space, let them spend the time the way they need — whether that’s with a friend, a sibling or solo.
7. Partners Are Not Substitutes for Professionals
You have the power to help a loved one with depression, but you cannot conjure up a cure. Depression is a complicated condition that requires professional help, which often includes tools you don’t have, such as prescription medication and trained psychotherapy.
You can provide a watchful eye. Even when your partner is on top of his or her appointments, you may see signs that the illness is getting serious. If your partner starts talking about committing suicide or feeling hopeless, contact the doctor or — if the situation is urgent — the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
8. Take Care of Yourself
If you’re falling apart, how can you possibly help keep someone else — and your relationship — stay in one healthy, happy piece?
Make sure you make time just for yourself. Engage in relaxing activities that keep you feeling good emotionally, mentally and physically. This may mean reading a novel, going to the gym, meeting a friend for coffee or taking a nap.
Our self-care checklist for people with depression has great ideas for anyone, not just your partner. If you both need motivation, try setting aside a mutual time to work on your own activities separately.
If you ever start showing signs you’re developing depression, consider seeing a therapist, either alone or as a couple.
Learning Is the First Step
Depression isn’t always easy to deal with, but it doesn’t have to hit pause on a relationship’s progress. The most important thing you can do when you’re dating someone with depression is to learn more about the condition and how you can help out. (By reading this article, you’re already running on the right track!)
Take your next steps to learn about loving a depressed person by reading more on our blog.