Around 5% of the world’s population of adults is currently struggling with depression. Many of these people are undiagnosed — and many who are diagnosed aren’t able to get the care they need for this common mental illness. If you are dating someone with depression, you might wish you could help them feel better — or you could feel confused and alone.
Dating someone with depression symptoms can be challenging for you and your partner. Learn more about the signs of depression and understand when it’s time to prompt your partner to seek professional help.
What Are the Typical Signs of Depression?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression can be a severe illness. Your loved one might appear sad, lethargic, and apathetic — or they might seem completely fine on the outside. Look for the following signs and symptoms:
- Feeling apathy or experiencing a loss of interest in hobbies and pleasurable activities
- Feeling sad or guilty
- Battling insomnia or sleeping too much
- Having trouble sitting still or experiencing slowed thoughts, speech, and actions
- In severe cases, having thoughts of suicide or wishing you didn’t exist
What Should I Know About Dating Someone With Depression?
How much do you know about depression? Perhaps you’ve dealt with the mental illness, or maybe this isn’t your first time dating a partner who struggles to manage mental health. Here is what to know about how to respond and what to think in the following situations.
You might not know your partner is depressed. Depression doesn’t always look like what you see in the media. A person who suffers from depression isn’t always acting sad, lying in bed, or talking about death (though they might be — and if they are, you should take them seriously and get help).
In some cases, a person with depression might force an upbeat or happy mood to hide their mental illness. Experts call this “smiling depression." This mask enables people with depression to hold jobs, participate in relationships, and engage with people on a surface level without revealing the severity of their illness.
If you’re dating someone with smiling depression, they might spend a lot of time alone. This enables them to cope with their mental illness and re-emerge with the mask on. Unfortunately, many people with this type of high-functioning depression are not coping at all. Some people with smiling depression exhibit a wave of energy before they attempt suicide. If the person you’re dating hasn’t been able to get out of bed for a week but suddenly acts energetic and upbeat, this could be a warning sign that their depression is getting worse — not better.
You might feel rejected at times. Depression isn’t simple sadness, grief, or even irritability. That’s why dating someone with depression can often feel more like rejection than a partnership. If your significant other is depressed, they might turn down your romantic or sexual cues, decline dates, and sit out of activities they once enjoyed doing with you.
You might feel hurt, abandoned, and alone at times when dating someone with depression symptoms. When this happens, try the following steps:
- Don’t try to fix your partner: Depression is complicated, and sometimes you should simply be there for them. Resist the urge to analyze every feeling they have, send them articles on natural supplements that may help them feel better, or look up names of psychiatrists in the area unless they want you to. The only exception to this is if you think they’re at risk of self-harm — in this case, you should get them help immediately.
- Don’t put your life on hold: It might be tempting to wallow in negativity with your partner. Choose instead to take care of your own mental health. What makes you feel more like yourself? Prioritize your sleep, diet, exercise, and hobbies so that you don’t feel lost in your partner’s depression.
You might be able to convince your partner to get treatment. If you’ve just realized that your partner is probably dealing with depression, you might feel a sense of relief. However, your partner — especially if they’re depressed — may not respond to this revelation in a positive way.
Try to accept your partner’s choices regarding treatment. If you can’t cope with your partner’s depression symptoms, or if you don’t want to be in a relationship with a partner who won’t listen to treatment options, you may need to consider whether being with them is in your best interest (and theirs).
Is Bipolar Depression the Same as Depression?
There are a few key differences between general depression (major depressive disorder) and bipolar depression. If your partner has bipolar depression, their mood will shift from depression to mania (an upbeat, reckless mood) in a cycle that's difficult to predict. Keep the following points in mind:
- Your partner’s mood may shift from severe depression to severe giddiness, agitation, or anger.
- Your partner’s judgment might be affected regardless of which mood state they’re in.
- Your partner might be extremely interested in your relationship when they’re hypomanic or manic and appear to lose interest when depressed. This often isn’t the case, but your partner’s energy levels and interest in sex might wax and wane with their mood.
If your relationship is serious, do your best to learn about the type of depression your partner has. Bipolar depression is unique because it can last for a few days at a time (and it could be very severe), or it be chronic depression that lasts for years in a milder state that allows your partner to function.
Their depression could also be a mix of these two extremes. Have a talk with your partner to determine how their depression affects them, the warning signs you might look out for, and how you can best help them during your time together.
How Can Therapy Help When Dating Someone With Depression?
Maybe you’re thinking about moving in with — or marrying — your partner. If you’re having trouble understanding your partner’s mental state, it’s a good idea to seek professional help at this point for dating someone with depression.
Individual therapy sessions for your partner can assist them in learning how to cope with their depression and, hopefully, feel better over time. Individual therapy for you can help you spot signs of depression in your partner. It will also help you maintain your own identity (and good mental health) despite your partner’s illness.
A couples therapist can assist you both in communicating efficiently and offer professional tips for dating someone with depression. Researchers are working on developing behavioral couples’ therapy for depression — where one partner is depressed and the other is not — to address the challenges of depression in a relationship.
If your partner enhances your life in a way no one else does, don’t let a diagnosis of depression deter you from having a relationship with them. Dating someone with depression isn’t always a smooth ride — but with patience and communication, these relationships can be just as healthy and rewarding as any other.