Dating someone with depression can be challenging. But knowing what to look for — along with some do’s and don’ts — can help.
There’s nothing simple about depression. It’s not something you can cheer someone out of or alleviate with some light-hearted jokes and good company.
Living with depression is challenging, and so is dating someone with depression.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who has depression, knowing how best to support them can be hard. It can also make dating, which is tricky enough, even more complex and take a serious toll on the relationship you’re establishing and growing.
When you love someone with depression, you may be faced with not only supporting and caring for them, but also trying to maintain and grow your relationship while taking care of yourself at the same time.
It’s a tall order for even the strongest of us.
But there are ways you can keep your relationship moving in a positive direction.
So, what should you do if you’re dating someone with depression? Should you even be dating them at all?
There’s no easy answer to either of those questions.
Dating and romantic relationships are extremely personal, and many would argue there’s no way to “control” who you fall in love with.
If you do find yourself in a relationship with someone living with depression, it might help to be aware of what you’re facing.
Depression is a serious condition. It can affect a person’s mood, how they behave, and how they interact with other people.
Another symptom of depression is a lack of interest and desire in things the person once enjoyed — this can include you and can make sustaining a satisfying romantic relationship difficult (but not impossible).
Of course, being in a relationship with someone who’s living with depression may not feel like it was ever a choice. You may find yourself in a relationship not realizing that your partner has depression, or the depression may set in once your relationship has already started and catch you off guard.
But knowing the symptoms of depression and how to recognize them can help you know what to expect and how to offer help and support.
To best care for your partner, your relationship, and yourself, it’s a good idea to know and be able to recognize the symptoms of depression.
This can be challenging no matter how close you are, but if you’re still in the get-to-know-you phase of a relationship, it can particularly difficult.
You may not have the benefit of the time and history that a long-term relationship offers, so it may not be easy to tell if the person you’re dating has changed or is having a depressive episode.
Newer relationships, or relationships where one partner is still trying to impress the other or mask what they feel are flaws, can mean that spotting symptoms of depression can take a keen eye.
So, how can you recognize depression in someone you’re dating? Here are some common symptoms:
- change in energy level
- shifts in mood that may include anger, crying, or apathy (lack of enthusiasm)
- feelings of sadness and guilt
- disinterest in you or in doing the things you enjoy together
- negative self-talk or self-blame
These symptoms can present at any time. They can come on quickly or happen slowly.
Remember that depression can look different from person to person. Also, there are different types of depression, and some types — like high-functioning depression or persistent depressive disorder — can make it even more of a challenge to recognize the symptoms.
Consider learning all you can about the type of depression your partner has and its symptoms. This can help you understand your partner better and have a better idea of how to support them.
It can be hard to know where to start when you’re trying to help a partner with depression. Is it better to be positive and happy and try to talk them out of feeling the way they do or use tough love and tell them to snap out of it?
If you’re dating someone with depression, try to avoid:
- Don’t think there’s something you can say to make everything change. Depression isn’t fixed with a few simple words or even sage advice.
- Don’t tell your partner what they’re doing wrong and how a few simple changes like exercising more, eating better, or getting fresh air will make things better. Those things may indeed help, but they aren’t likely to fix things.
- Don’t threaten them or use ultimatums. Telling someone with depression they need to get better or x, y, or z will happen is not a pathway for them to feel better. More likely, it will add anxiety into the mix and make things worse.
- Don’t suggest that a pill will fix everything. Medication can have a place in treatment, but that is for a mental health professional to determine. Depression isn’t like having a headache — you can’t take a couple of pills and find that it’s all better in a hour.
- Don’t feel like your partner’s depression is your fault — it’s not. While depression can be triggered by certain events, it’s a mental health condition that occurs within a person. You didn’t give it to them.
Knowing what not to do when you’re dating someone who’s depressed then begs the question: What should I do?
If your partner is living with depression, consider trying to:
- Remain encouraging. Expressing your faith that they’ll eventually feel better can be anchoring for someone who feels that they can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Recognize their feelings and empathize. You can’t talk a person out of depression and you shouldn’t ignore it either. Just let your partner know you see what they’re going through and are doing your best to understand.
- Be patient but not complacent. It can take time to recover from a depressive episode — they won’t just snap out of it. At the same time, just accepting this is the way things are isn’t helpful either. So, try to exercise patience and continual encouragement toward things that are helpful and therapeutic.
- Help them seek professional help. You’re a partner not a mental health professional — you can’t “fix” their depression. What you can do, however, is help them find the resources that might help.
- Educate yourself on the signs of suicidal ideation. Severe depression that is untreated can lead to thoughts of suicide, so being aware of your partner’s thoughts regarding this and having a sense of the seriousness of their depression can be important. If at any point you’re concerned that your partner may harm themselves, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741.
- Take care of yourself. This means continuing to do the things that give you joy and keep you feeling satisfied. Allowing yourself to give up your own sources of joy in order to care for a partner living with depression can lead to resentment or depression within yourself. Not taking care of yourself can also make you less capable of helping them.
Depression can put a strain on even the strongest of relationships. It can affect not only the person who’s living with it, but also their relationships at work, home, and with friends.
If you’re dating someone with depression, the road can be bumpy, but with treatment and support, it may not feel as overwhelming.
Remember: All relationships have few bumps in the road. And depression can be treated in most people.
Try to work together and exercise patience. There’s no defined timeline on depression, nor any guarantee it won’t return. But with commitment, time, and love, there’s also no reason you and your partner can’t have a long and prosperous future together.