This Is What You Need to Know When Dating Someone With Depression
The weight of your partner's depression shouldn't land on your shoulders.
About 16.2 million adults have dealt with a major depressive episode at least once, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Once you get close enough to someone you've been dating, your S.O. might open up about mental health issues. And if they mention depression, you could have a million questions—from what you can do to help to what this will mean for your relationship. To help you navigate the situation, we chatted with mental health experts to get the ins and outs of what to expect when dating someone with depression.
Depression is not all about feeling blue
The stereotypical idea of depression is someone who feels sad all the time, but that's not the only way it can affect people. Depression can also cause mood changes that look like irritability or frustration, says Debra Kissen, PhD, MHSA, clinical director of Light on Anxiety Treatment Center. When that happens, try not to take their moodiness personally, she suggests. "Their acting in a certain way doesn't mean anything about you, only how they're moving through that [particular] moment," she says. And don't be afraid to step out if you're feeling attacked.
Dating someone with depression could impact your sex life
Both depression itself and antidepressant medications can lead to low libido, so don't be surprised if your partner isn't up for getting down. Don't guilt-trip your partner or pressure them into having sex when they don't feel like it, says Abigael San, D.Clin.Psy, a London-based psychologist. "Make it known that the sexual relationship is not the most important part of things," she says. Instead, focus on building emotional closeness.
Recognize that you can't fix depression
If there's one thing you need to remember about dating someone with depression, it's that overcoming depression isn't as easy as cheering someone up after a bad day. While there's plenty you can do to support your partner, be mindful that you can't make their health problems disappear. "Know the limits of what you can do and what you can't do—and there's a lot more of what you can't do," says Kissen. Encourage and support them, but don't put the whole weight of their depression on your shoulders.
Don't give unsolicited advice
It can look so obvious from the outside: If they just focused on the positives and counted their blessings, they'd feel so much better! But try to refrain from offering your two cents when dating someone with depression unless your partner has asked for it. "When we're suffering, we're rarely looking for advice," says Kissen. In the same way, saying things like "cheer up" or "things aren't so bad" won't help—depression is a mental health issue, not a bad mood. Instead, just remind your partner that you're here for them and you believe in them.
Your partner might not want to go out all the time
Losing interest in activities is a symptom of depression, so don't be surprised (or offended) if your partner would rather stay home than go out. The first step is to encourage your partner to get out of their comfort zone and follow through on your plans, says Kissen. But if they insist on skipping, you can only control your own actions—not theirs. "If someone is pretty set on not doing something, then it's about looking out for your own needs and saying, 'This is important to me and I'm going to do it anyway,'" she says. "Don't change your life to accommodate for someone's depression."
Face-to-face time is more important than ever
When your partner isn't up for grabbing dinner out, it can be easy to lapse into a relationship that mostly happens over text, points out San. But when one partner has depression, it's more important than ever to make sure you're actually seeing each other in person often. "It can be easy [for a person with depression] to hide behind a screen, and that can exacerbate [depression]," says San. By making a point of meeting in person, you can help fight those feelings of detachment your S.O. might be experiencing.
Talk it out if you feel like they're losing interest
Because depression can lead to feelings of detachment, you might feel like your partner is starting to lose interest. If that happens, don't just accept it as the new normal without checking in with your partner. "Talking about the process is important," says San. "You have a certain intimacy that comes from addressing the fact that there's a loss of intimacy."
Be mentally prepared for talks of suicide
It's scary and uncomfortable to hear someone talk about suicidal thoughts, but it's important to have an open dialogue. "People can feel like it's a bad idea to talk about it. But actually, I don't think that's necessarily a very helpful way to respond," says San. By figuring out what's really going through your partner's mind, you can figure out if dying is a fantasy that they'd never act on or if there's a real emergency at hand, she says. Either way, it's important to get those feelings out in the open and encourage your partner to get help.
Letting them depend on you isn't helpful
In some couples, the non-depressed partner starts doing the brunt of the chores, like making dinner, paying the bills, and cleaning up, says San. "You can end up with a kind of secondary gain as a depressed person," she says. "You gain not having to do things, which is bad for various reasons." Pushing your partner to pitch in doesn't just take the burden off you—it also gets them active as well.
Try to figure out what you can do to help
When dating someone with depression, keeping an open conversation will help you and your partner get through depressive episodes together. Talking about what hasn't worked in the past can be just as helpful as knowing what does work, says Kissen. Maybe your partner's parents used to try to overcompensate with peppiness, so that kind of sugar-coating sets their teeth on edge. Kissen recommends coming up with a code word for when your partner needs space. "It doesn't have to be a full sentence, but a quick shorthand to give about when they just need to be alone," she says.
Not everything can be blamed on depression
It can be tempting to look at a significant other who's been acting distant and uninterested and assume they must have undiagnosed depression. But unless they've actually gotten a psychiatric workup or you've talked about the change of behavior, you can't assume that mental health problems are behind their actions. "Sometimes they're acting that way because they're not interested in the relationship or because they take their frustration out on other people," says Kissen.
Dating someone with depression doesn't mean you can never call it quits
Some couples aren't meant to be. If your S.O.'s depression—or anything else about the relationship—is getting to be too much, and the relationship and your own mental health are suffering, breaking up can be the right thing to do. "It's perfectly fair to say, 'I want the best for them, but I need to do what's best for me,'" says Kissen. You might feel guilty adding to your partner's list of things to feel down about, but it's not your responsibility to make them happy, and you shouldn't feel stuck in a bad relationship.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.