Dating someone with depression comes with its own set of challenges, particularly when it’s chronic. But even if it’s intermittent, watching someone you care about suffer, shutdown, and/or withdraw from the world is both frustrating and heartbreaking to witness. It leaves loved ones feeling helpless and confused as far as how best to help the suffering.
What many non-sufferers don’t understand is that depression brings on a range of symptoms that can include physical pain, brain fog, inability to see outside the box, and self-defeating behaviors. The triggers for it are varied and complex. Often times, the condition stems from feelings of inadequacy or despair. The problem is that what we can’t see on the outside makes it difficult for us to understand or empathize with what’s happening to others on the inside.
Depression + Dating
Debilitating depression makes even the simplest of tasks seem overwhelming, such as running errands, going to the grocery store, or routine decision making. Sufferers just can’t cope. They feel dead inside, and merely acknowledging the mail is a monumental effort. Shutting down and shutting out is the default mode, so everything slides as the hole grows deeper and deeper.
So, how does someone dating an individual with depression deal with it constructively without sliding off the edge along with their partner?
That’s a good question. According to experts in mental health, there are a number of steps you can take to keep your own emotional well-being on an even keel while helping your partner through the dark times.
Here’s what they have to say on the subject.
First and foremost, it’s necessary to determine what or where the depressive episodes are stemming from. Depression isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. The disorder can spring from loss of a loved one through death, separation, or divorce. It may also be the result of a string of bad luck like losing a job, financial difficulties, a stalled career, or the critical illness of a family member or life-long friend. It might even be from feelings of guilt or remorse.
Alternatively, depression can arise seemingly out of nowhere, making it even harder to identify and understand. Unless they’re keeping something from you, this type of downward spiral is frequently rooted in deep-seated feelings of not measuring up.
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Viewing one’s self as unworthy due to self-esteem issues is relatively common. But some people are prone to depression regardless of their upbringing or circumstances.
If it’s a part of their family history, it’s just in them, making it even harder to fathom by those not afflicted with the problem.
Discovering the basis for it — if there is one — can assist in better understanding the situation and addressing it. And there is always something at the core of it, whether it be a chemical/hormone imbalance or from a traumatic event. If the condition is frequent or ongoing, professional help should be considered for both your sakes.
Living with Depression
Per Psychology Today, “Depression has a loud and convincing voice that dominates the minds of those who suffer from it. There’s little room for reason, which makes it hard for partners to know how to be helpful.”
With that said, expecting someone to just “snap out of it” isn’t realistic. It doesn’t work that way. What you can do is try and remember some things about the condition that might make it easier for you to deal with it.
- You can’t personally cure your partner’s depression, so it’s not serving you or them to try to fix or change it yourself.
- Pushing your partner to “get over it” by trying to convince them that all is right with the world and that they’re worthy is a waste of time.
- While you may not be able to help yourself from trying to convince them otherwise, be aware that you could unwittingly be creating even more of a disconnect between you.
Recommendations from the Pros
Instead, professionals recommend you learn to be supportive and accept the person the way they are — if you can handle it — and educate yourself on how to cope with the situation in the healthiest way possible.
To begin with, it’s crucial you maintain your own mental health while being supportive of another’s. This really can’t be stressed enough. If you haven’t personally experienced it, it’s extremely challenging to help someone when you, yourself, are in need of help. And it isn’t just about what’s going on upstairs. Stress and fatigue can quickly lead to deteriorating physical health, so it’s like a double-whammy on your overall well-being.
- Don’t completely lose sight of yourself
- Be mindful of meeting your own needs while attempting to meet the needs of your partner
- Remind yourself that you can’t “save” anybody else, you can only support them
- Take time out if/when you need it
- Seek a support group if you’re feeling overwhelmed
- Educate yourself on mood disorders
What you can do for him or her is continue to be supportive through the following measures:
- Offer acceptance and compassion without judgment
- Demonstrate to them that you care
- Ask your partner to share their feelings and listen
- Hold them if/when they need it and provide warm hugs
- Try to be understanding even if it doesn’t make sense
- Acknowledge that everyone handles things differently
How to Have a Healthy Relationship
There are also things you should be doing to keep the relationship healthy, which will benefit you both. The steps aren’t complicated, and they don’t cost a thing.
- Maintain a positive outlook on life
- Focus on the positives of your relationship
- Keep in touch with friends and family
- Try to maintain some sort of social life
- Introduce laughter at every opportunity
- Encourage your partner to take short walks with you and build-up
Depression and Health
Laughter and exercise, along with a healthy diet, have been proven time and again to do wonders for your outlook. Making minor lifestyle changes can vastly improve your situation if you’re willing to give it a shot. And it really doesn’t have to be anything major, but you’ll both have to work on it.
- Laughter is the best medicine for releasing feel-good endorphins
- Exercise — almost any — can also lift your spirits and improve sleep
- Eliminate sugar and processed foods full of artificial ingredients
All of these things can positively influence your stress levels and improve your immune system. If you watch TV, tune into comedies or put on a stand-up act starring their favorite comedian. Try coaxing your partner to take up Tai Chi or yoga with you. It can be for as little as 15-20 minutes per day, but it will help you both to get out of your heads for a bit. Remember, when you’re dating someone with depression, this is for each of you and the health of your relationship.
Nutrients in Food
Eating nutritious foods high in antioxidants or omega fatty acids, such as salmon, has been proven to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. Some recent studies on omega-3s have made a connection between low fish intake and increased incidence of psychological issues such as depression, suicidal tendencies, bipolar disorders, and postpartum depression. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that patients with manic-depressive disorder who had been non-responsive to conventional therapies showed dramatic improvement after consuming 4 ounces of fresh salmon daily.
Wild salmon therapy has shown great success with no discernible side effects other than younger-looking skin, an increase in cognitive skills, and lessening of depression. If you could improve the situation through these simple steps, wouldn’t you want to?
In addition to these lifestyle tweaks, you might try introducing a new hobby or rekindling interest in an old one. This can be tough because one of the first things to fly out the window when mood disorders hit is interest in almost anything. It may be a struggle but keep at it.
Treatment Options for Depression
When dating someone with depression, you should be aware that persons suffering from it have a tendency to either avoid treatment or self-medicate. Neither is a good idea. If you’re in a relationship with a man or woman who suffers from a chronic emotional imbalance, then they should be under the care of a professional.
That person should evaluate your partner and determine whether or not medication is in order, the aid of a therapist should be sought, or both.
Support Through Medications
According to DepressionAlliance.org,
“There are many medications that can be prescribed to help someone manage their depression. Each class of medications acts a little bit differently to counteract a person’s symptoms. Medications can be extremely effective in minimizing symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, these medications take one to two months to reach their full effect, and the waiting period can be frustrating for those who are suffering. Medication regimens can change as a person tries to find the medication that works best for them. The good news is if one class of medications does not work well for someone or the side effects are not tolerated, there are many options to choose from.”
Being aware of this and making sure your partner is, too, is vital to success. Because people have a tendency to give up on medications before they’ve really had a chance to be proven useful or otherwise. His or her mental health professional should discuss all of the options available to them and will likely recommend therapy.
Support Through Therapy
It may be necessary for you to attend with them from time to time, but they should seek a therapist’s help regardless. If cost is an issue, there are facilities in most cities where patients can receive treatment on what’s called a sliding pay scale. They will work with you based on what you can afford to pay.
If they have no real interest in identifying their problem and taking part in the recovery process, you may need to give your relationship a good, hard look. As mentioned earlier, experts say you cannot fix the sufferer yourself, as romantic a notion as that might be. Love cures a lot of things, and it can mend a broken heart, but it can’t solely mend a broken outlook or dispirited mind.
The Depressed Stigma
If it’s a matter of the stigma of being branded weak or emotionally unstable, do your utmost to assure them it’s not. Mental health is at the forefront of conversations across the globe right now. Communicate to them that there is no shame in seeking or accepting help. And don’t be afraid to enlist the aid of family and long-time friends, if you have to.
If they don’t budge, no matter what you try, do not sacrifice yourself and your mental well-being. Being with someone who is depressed yet refuses to seek help can be like being sucked in by a black hole.
Eventually, if you’re not careful, you’ll swirl in after them. Depression very often breeds depression, and it definitely brings on feelings of negativity in those exposed to it over time.
If you’re worried that your partner might cause themselves intentional harm, do not hesitate to recruit the help of professionals or emergency services for assistance immediately. They may need to be hospitalized temporarily for observation until the crisis has passed.
The Blame Game
When you’re dating someone with depression, it can be easy to fall into the habit of assigning blame to the condition for every negative or frustrating thing that comes to pass between you. For starters, it’s not true. Secondly, you’re doing more harm to them than you realize by making them feel misunderstood or marginalized. Surely that’s not your intent, but that’s the end result.
On the other hand, mollycoddling someone, behaving as if they were fragile, and re-enforcing the notion that they’re to be treated with kid gloves isn’t going to improve the situation either. When we’re allowed to wallow, we will wallow without thought of pulling ourselves back up.
Getting better is a matter of fighting. When you’re depressed, it’s one foot in front of the other, baby steps, one day at a time until you pull yourself out of the blackness and back into the light.
If you can’t imagine your life without them, then help them fight. Be their pillar of strength and their guiding light. Avoid bombarding them with tips for recovery. Because they’ll only convince themselves you don’t really understand what they’re going through and may resent you for it. Advice is best left to professionals — even if they repeat your pearls of wisdom verbatim.
Symptoms of Depression
Finally, if you’re dating someone whom you suspect of suffering from depression and you’re just not sure, here’s a list of signs to look for:
- Changes in Sleep Patterns — Oftentimes, people with depression find it difficult to get out of bed, instead, spending most of the day buried beneath the covers. Others may experience trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up frequently.
- Changes in Eating Habits — Loss of appetite or overeating are both common symptoms of depression. Noticing these changes should be a red flag of sorts if they’re out of the ordinary.
- Changes in Attitude — Depression can cause a person to become apathetic. A loss of interest in events or hobbies they previously found joy in is an indicator that shouldn’t be ignored. This can also be reflected in the care they take in their appearance or recent lack of it.
- Brain Fog — A lot of people experiencing depressive episodes struggle to find the energy to accomplish ordinary tasks, as well as formulate thought processes and articulate speech.
- Physical Aches and Pains — While it may seem crazy, mood disorders can actually cause sufferers to experience sensations of physical pain without any discernible reason.
- Feelings of Inadequacy — General feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness, and self-doubt are all commonly associated with mood disorders, and they can be hard to break free of.
There are support groups on and offline if you or your partner need them. They are a safe place to ask questions, share concerns, and receive encouragement in an environment free of judgment or ridicule. All you have to do is reach out and accept it for what it is. Remember, you are not alone.