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|Rachel Dack • 4/27/16|
Chances are you have dated, will date, or are dating somebody suffering from depression — or perhaps you are familiar with depression yourself. According to a 2014 study by the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 15 Americans have had at least one major depressive episode in a 12-month period.
Depression, like other life challenges, may interfere with your relationship, but it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.
What’s most important is a thorough understanding of depression (yes, that means do your homework!) and greater insight into how to take care of both your partner and yourself.
Here are 5 facts you should know about depression:
Depression often looks different from one person to another, and symptoms vary between men and women. Fewer than half of American men who suffer from depression or anxiety seek professional help, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to report symptoms of depression, especially during hormonal changes and pregnancy.
While an individual must exhibit specific symptoms that meet the criteria for a diagnosis of clinical depression (aka Major Depression or Major Depressive Disorder), depression can occur in varying degrees and manifests in a wide range of symptoms.
A full description can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which guides mental health professionals in the diagnosis of mental health disorders, such as depression.
So you know what to look out for, listed below are the primary symptoms exhibited by someone suffering from depression:
Even if an individual doesn’t have persistent or chronic symptoms that meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis, ignoring the signs of depression could lead to a more serious problem. Depression can come from life transitions and adjustments, loss, stress, perfectionist tendencies, relationship challenges, seasonal changes, and difficult life experiences. Depression can also be the result of chemical imbalances. What’s most important is understanding your partner’s triggers.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with depression as treatment depends on the frequency and severity of symptoms. The principal treatment options are psychotherapy (talk therapy) and psychiatric medications (such as anti-depressants). Having a good support network and engaging in healthy habits are key to managing depression. Research has shown how powerful and beneficial proper treatment can be. With appropriate treatment, people with depression can lead productive lives that include successful careers and thriving social lives.
Having strategies for dating someone with depression is equally as important as knowing the facts about depression. Watching someone you love suffer can be brutal. This does not mean you have to exit the relationship. It means you have to take action, balancing your partner’s and your emotional needs.
Here are 7 key strategies for dating someone with depression:
Regardless of whether the person you’re dating has a formal diagnosis of depression, disclosing how he or she feels might be overwhelming and difficult.
Your partner may worry his or her depression will be perceived as a weakness and that you will leave once you find out.
If you want your relationship to work, conversations about depression must be handled with compassion and sensitivity. For example, saying “get over it” only hinders open communication. Speaking with acceptance, encouragement, and support is a must.
Reassure the person you love of your feelings. Depression often comes with insecurities or feelings of unworthiness, so it’s important to show steadfast care and interest.
Remember that depression is real, and suffering from depression is not your partner’s fault. While it is essential that your partner find ways to cope with it, depression doesn’t make someone crazy or undeserving of your love. Overlooking symptoms of depression may seem easier and emotionally safer for you, but this only causes relationship conflict and a lack of understanding.
Even in the best of circumstances, depression takes time to heal. Putting pressure on your partner to snap out of it is not the answer. Depression can’t be turned off like a light switch. As with any mental health condition, it needs to be managed through active and consistent support, healthy coping skills, and individualized treatment options. Try to balance validating your partner’s experiences while offering motivation and support (not pressure). Don’t assume you know what your partner needs. Ask how you can help and listen carefully to the response.
Depression causes a lack of enthusiasm about life. This negative attitude is not a reflection on you. Your partner might feel more irritable, more fatigued, and less energized and might even push you away when you try to help. At times, it might feel as though your partner doesn’t care about you. Do not take this personally.
Depression and prescribed anti-depressants can also cause a loss of interest in sex, so don’t take your partner’s lack of libido to heart. Instead, focus on finding ways to connect emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually, and believe that your partner finds you attractive even if he or she is not always in the mood.
Depression doesn’t have to ruin a relationship. In fact, a healthy, loving relationship is a healing and protective factor against mental health issues. Be there for your partner: grow together and learn about each other while increasing your connection.
When you understand your partner’s triggers, you will be better equipped to plan time together that is enjoyable and relaxing. Instead of operating on assumptions, ask your partner what he or she needs. Get creative with activities and date ideas that call for both of you to be actively engaged in making it a success. If your partner isn’t up for going out, plan a great date in.
As much as you may try, you can’t fix your partner or their depression. Trying to fix them or making your partner into a project will only make matters worse and lead to relationship dysfunction. You are there to offer support and love. While you may play an active role in your partner’s support network, the ultimate responsibility for making changes has to come within.
As your partner’s closest confidant, you will be the one who knows what’s really going on with your partner and you may notice that your partner puts on a show around others. Such knowledge can be painful. You may feel powerless, avoidant, worried, or emotionally depleted at times. These are normal emotions associated with loving or caring for someone with depression.
Don’t give up your own life and interests. You’ll be energized, happier and better prepared to face challenges if you engage in your outside interests. If you don’t already have one, create a support system of friends and family to confide in. Your role is to be supportive while balancing your own needs, which means taking care of yourself is equally important. Maintain realistic expectations and remember you are just one person. Practice self-care and show up for yourself.
The 7 strategies above will make your relationship stronger. There’s no shame in seeking professional help separately or as a couple. Counseling is a valuable outlet for processing emotions, fostering deeper understanding, and enhancing relationships. You can reduce the stigma by speaking up and remaining open to outside help.
Remember, love is accepting someone’s flaws and choosing to love them anyway. Depression doesn’t have to get in the way.