According to the CDC, 4.7% of adults over the age of 18 experience depression in the US. Thankfully, the importance of mental health is getting more attention than ever, which means our knowledge on the subject is constantly growing.
Unfortunately, increased public awareness alone isn’t enough to make someone with depression feel better or to heal their romantic relationship.
For those that have a partner who is suffering from depression, navigating through your relationship may seem difficult and confusing at times. Reading the tips below is a great first step to getting a better understanding of depression and how it might be affecting your significant other.
First things first: depression is not made up. There’s a lot to learn about depression, but the most crucial part is understanding that it’s a very real and powerful illness that affects the physical body.
There are specific structures in the brain that are connected to your emotions, motivation, and hormone production. These structures, specifically located in the subcortical limbic brain region, have been found to have both structural and functional abnormalities in those with depression.
Scientists have even theorized that these abnormalities may be the result of imbalances in the connectivity between brain regions. Other scientists point to neuroinflammation as a primary cause of depressive feelings.
Regardless of whether it’s caused by neuroinflammation, connectivity issues, or both, someone with depression has observable, physiological causes underlying their depressive feelings.
Just like liver disease or a broken bone, depression is a legitimate ailment, the only difference is that the brain can’t be seen directly from the outside world. This leaves friends, family, or a therapist to look for signs and symptoms, many of which are outlined below.
Common Symptoms of Depression
Being able to spot the common symptoms of depression will help you recognize when your partner is feeling low, and help you empathize with what they’re going through:
- Depressed mood: Feeling sad or down for extended periods of time.
- Loss of interest: Having little to no desire to participate in activities that once brought joy.
- Concentration problems: Inability to focus on things for a normal period of time or difficulty thinking.
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness: Loss of a positive outlook on oneself and on life in general.
- Sleep and appetite changes: Insomnia is more likely for those with depression, but getting too much sleep can also be a sign. Increased or reduced appetite is also common.
- Fatigue: Being tired constantly and dealing with unusual exhaustion.
- Suicidal ideation: The contemplation of ending one’s own life.
These symptoms may display in a number of ways, including a pattern of negative self-talk, self-isolation, or noticeable problems in day-to-day activities.
The symptoms above are common for those with major depressive disorder (MDD), though there are exceptions, and no one experiences depression in the same way.
Depression Doesn’t Define You
When learning about depression, it’s essential to remember that an illness doesn’t make a person who they are.
While depression can affect your partner’s well being at times, they are still a complete individual with goals, ambitions, and desires. Dealing with this mental illness is only one part of their life, just as your issues are only one part of yours.
Being supportive and understanding is a great way to lend a helping hand in hard times, but it’s also important to focus on all the other aspects of your dating life.
Being Part of Their Support System
As a common symptom of depression is feelings of guilt and hopelessness, people often feel that they are worthless, helpless, or a burden to others. Providing reassurance and affirmation to your partner when they’re experiencing symptoms of depression is a great way of letting them know you’re there for them.
There is no “fixing” depression, and trying to solve your partner’s issues for them isn’t helpful for either of you. Instead, show that you aren’t judging them, you understand that they’re going through a difficult experience and that you will support them through it.
A simple reminder that you accept and care for them can go a long way.
Don’t Take on the Whole Load
As much as you might want to, you can’t help your partner all by yourself. You should be a strong and reliable member of your partner’s support system, but not the whole thing. Remember, it’s not your job to make them feel better.
Taking on too much responsibility isn’t beneficial for anyone, and your partner should be encouraged to form a varied support system made up of professionals, family, and friends. It’s crucial when dating someone with depression to find a healthy balance.
Use Effective Communication
For many reasons, communication that may seem easy or effortless to others may be very difficult for a partner with depression.
A casual question or observation can make depressed people feel like they’re being judged or insulted due to a complicated emotional state and negative self-views. Because depression affects the ways we interpret the world, your partner may be feeling like there’s a need to defend themselves, which could lead to an argument or disagreement.
In order to turn arguments into effective and productive discussions that improve the relationship as opposed to hurting it, try to use effective, non-confrontational communication.
Life-Changing Communication Skills
Together, you and your partner can learn ways to communicate more effectively.
- Be an engaged listener: Focus fully on the speaker, setting aside distractions or other thoughts to the best of your ability. Be interactive by nodding at the correct times and asking clarifying questions when needed, but otherwise avoid interrupting. These practices will help the speaker feel that you truly understand what they’re saying and ensure that their words aren’t falling on deaf ears.
- Implement nonverbal communication: When listening and speaking, use nonverbal cues to show that you are open to what the speaker has to say and eager to respond. Give more meaning to your words and put your talking partner at ease by smiling, using facial expressions, and practicing positive body language.
- Keep stress and negative emotions in check: Speaking in haste or out of instinct can lead to unintentionally hurting someone’s feelings or saying the wrong thing. Taking a moment to stop and think before you speak helps you get your point across clearly and in the best possible manner. Instead of getting angry or upset, think about ways to stay calm, and consider compromising to reach the best solution for both parties.
- Be assertive, not aggressive: Asserting your position is a wonderful skill to have in any conversation, but for you and your significant other, it could be the difference between effective communication and an argument. Being assertive means valuing your boundaries, emotions, and opinions while expressing them in a positive and straightforward way.
Learning new communication skills can change the way you interact with your partner, and can make conversations about difficult topics more meaningful and productive for both of you.
If your partner can let you know how they’re feeling in an assertive but positive way, and you can show that you are engaged, listening, and understanding, then talking about depression will become less daunting.
Taking Care of Yourself
Everyone tends to forget about their own well-being from time to time as things get busy, but being aware of your feelings and taking care of your needs should be a top priority – especially when dating someone with depression.
The stress of seeing a loved one suffer through this disorder can be taxing, and you need to take care of yourself.
Self-Care Practices to Implement
Self-care can look different from person to person, but the general idea is to take care of yourself because when you’re burnt out or feeling exhausted, you aren’t any good to yourself or to others.
Here are 7 things you can do to improve your well-being:
- Get the right amount of sleep: Lack of sleep can negatively affect how your brain functions and sour your mood.
- Take care of your digestive system: Eat foods that are nutritious and delicious and you’ll see the positive effects. Taking probiotics to keep your gut bacteria healthy can also help with mood and anxiety levels.
- Get organized: While busy worrying about other people, things, and ideas, life can get a little unorganized. Take time to sort out your priorities while literally sorting out your belongings!
- Learn that it’s okay to say no: Saying no to things that you aren’t comfortable with or that cross your boundaries should be common sense, but sometimes it’s difficult to prioritize yourself over others’ needs. Saying no when you need to can even grow your self-confidence and make you a more assertive and self-assured person in daily life.
- Take some alone time: Getting away from others every now and then and spending some time with ourselves is necessary. It helps us recharge, look at things from different perspectives, and get to know ourselves better.
- Spend time on your hobbies: Taking time to enjoy the things that bring you happiness outside of your relationship is important to your mental wellness and to the health of your relationship.
- Spend time with family and friends: Keeping your own support system close and spending time with loved ones helps reduce stress. Relaxing and having fun with friends and family can also help you feel less alone.
Taking care of yourself and reaching out for help from others when you need it is perfectly normal, expected, and recommended.
In the end, you have to remember that you are not your partner’s therapist, and it isn’t fair for you to take on that role.
What to Take Away
Take the time to learn about depression and everything that comes with it. Being knowledgeable is the first step to supporting those you love and to ensuring you have your own self-care practices in place.
Working on improving communication should be a priority, as well as developing a support system for both your partner and yourself.
Understand that there is no “solving” depression. You may feel like there’s nothing you can do to help alleviate your partner’s depression, but providing support, showing you care, and simply being empathetic can go a long way.
Last but certainly not least, be sure to make yourself a priority as you support your significant other through their mental health journey. Take a step back every now and then to evaluate how you are feeling, and make sure you’re practicing effective self-care and getting the support you need.
Dating someone with depression can be scary and confusing at times, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. Going through this journey together can make you stronger than ever, and always remember – depression doesn’t define your relationship, but rather how you and your partner are able to love each other.