ating someone with depression can be hard when you don’t fully understand their condition. On top of that, seeing someone that you love suffer mentally can be a never-ending battle. Through empathy, love, communication, and understanding, we all can help change the stigma surrounding invisible illnesses.
Dating without the complications of depression has its own challenges. However, it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with your partner when suffering from depression. Just because someone has a mental illness doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of love, or receiving it in return. The best thing you can do is to listen, learn, and be willing to adapt to any situation with understanding and care.
Depression manifests differently from person to person. There’s a range of symptoms, levels of clinical depression, and persistence of the condition. Depression is a very common and serious illness, with approximately 280 million people affected worldwide. Although it’s a treatable disease, the chronic side effects sometimes last for their entire lives. The disorder can alter people’s ability to function in society. It can affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.
Things are even more difficult with lack of access to proper healthcare and resources to assist with treatment. In the U.S., more than 32.8 million people under the age of 65 are uninsured. The average out of pocket cost for an hour-long therapy session can range from $65 per hour to $250 or more. Although the Affordable Care Act has expanded comprehensive healthcare, a large portion of the American population still can’t afford or access mental health assistance. Keeping these things in mind, it’s a very complex disorder with a lot of contributing factors adding to its persistence.
People with depression can also have co-occurring disorders, or a dual diagnosis of both a mental illness and substance use disorder. Approximately 9.2 million adults in America have a co-occurring disorder. People with mental illness are more likely to experience a substance use disorder than others. Sometimes, those with a dual diagnosis can lash out or act out of character. Keep in mind that someone’s diagnosis or disorder doesn’t say anything about who they are as a person. They still deserve the same respect, kindness, and love as anyone else. Set boundaries and get expert advice if your partner is being actively abusive or shows signs of any red flags.
Advice on How to Support Your Partner
If you are dating someone with depression and don’t know much about mental health, the first thing you should do is research. If you don’t have at least a basic understanding of depression and it’s symptoms and mannerisms, it’ll make it even more difficult to support the one you love. When someone has depression, they can tend to feel hopeless, withdrawn, and seem disinterested. Some free resources specializing in mental health education are Mental Health America (MHA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Otherwise, read on for some things to look out for and how to support your partner with depression.
Notice the Signs of a Spiral
When observing and interacting with your partner, it’s important to look for signs that they need help. Symptoms of depression may include lack of energy, sadness, a lack of interest in things that typically interest them, an inability to sleep, or excessive sleep, anger, crying spells, or negative self-talk. If you’re noticing that your partner is going through any of these symptoms on a regular basis, try and have an open conversation with them about getting some support.
Listen to Your Partner’s Needs
Mental health check-in’s are always a good idea. There’s no need to shy away from talking openly about mental illness -- it’s not attention seeking or wrong. Although you are by no means a substitute for a professional, it’s good for you to be judge-free with your partner’s worries and needs. Let them know that they can trust you with their concerns and see how they respond with open communication. A good way to chat in a healthy way is to ask someone “Are you in the mindset to talk about __?” or “Is now a good time for me to vent about this?” Your partner will appreciate you checking in before diving in.
Help Them Get the Support They Need
If your partner needs to seek professional help, have them sign up for peer support. Sometimes having a peer support group can be helpful for people who suffer from mental illness. People with depression can tend to distance, or self-isolate themselves from their loved ones during times of crisis, leading them down a self-destructive path. Having a consistent group of people to confide with in a healthy way can be beneficial. Peer support specialists are trained professionals with personal experience who have achieved significant recovery to assist others on their journey. If they don’t want to sign up for peer support, Psychology Today’s website makes it easy for you to specifically search for therapists that fit your region, healthcare plan and other projected needs.
When Necessary, Give Them Space to Heal
Although some people with depression can tend to self-isolate, it's important to sometimes give your partner space. Living with depression daily can leave someone feeling drained, tired or uninterested. We’re not saying leave them in isolation, but maybe do an activity that doesn't involve too much socialization. Watch a movie, make them dinner, listen to music, read together in silence, or simply ask them what they would like to do if they're feeling down. More likely than not, they would be open to doing some of these things with you on their own terms. But, never call them lazy for needing time to rest. One of the common misconceptions about depression is that they are lazy. This is not the case, even if they are slightly disorganized, messy, or scattered. It's difficult to be productive when your means of production can’t work.
Don’t Take All Their Actions Personally
When you have depression, sometimes it makes you act out of character. It's best not to judge or take things personally when your partner suddenly has disinterest in things that they might have enjoyed previously. Some people with depression can tend to cancel plans last minute, overthink, or generally withdraw from social situations. This can happen often and sometimes randomly. Instead of taking things personally, try to be somebody who offers hope to that person. We’re not saying be overly optimistic, since that can get annoying. However, being hopeful might be something that your partner can reach in that darkness.
Don’t Stay If It’s Unhealthy
In spite of all of the symptoms, and the different approaches to depression, it's never good to stay in anything that turns toxic. If your partner gets angry at you for being yourself, tries to isolate you from your loved ones, tells you what to do, who to be, or physically abuses you in any way, end that relationship. No one should feel obligated to stay in a relationship that is not reciprocal, loving, and healthy. Keep in mind your potential mistakes and take accountability for them too. Stereotypically, the blame is put on the one with mental illness when a relationship goes south. Not everyone who is depressed has the tendency to act abusive. But, it's good to have open and honest communication about whatever issues you might have with their behavior in a reasonable way. If you both decide it’s best to part ways, that’s completely valid.
Remind Them That You’re There
Sometimes, all people need is a reminder that you're there for them. Those with depression just want to know that you care. We aren't asking you to fix their illness, that is unrealistic and also makes you sound superior. They aren't broken people, just someone who lives differently than others. Simply verbalizing your support, holding them, giving them a hug or comfort in any way can go a long way. It doesn't need to be some grand gesture. Do something small for them, like grab their favorite food from the grocery store, do something off their to-do list, take a little bit of that burden away from them so they don't have to worry about it.
If you feel like you or your loved one needs fast and direct support, NAMI has a helpline that offers free assistance and advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can reach the helpline at 1-800-950-6264. For more information visit NAMI.org or text NAMI to 741741.