Relationship Experts Open Up About How To Date Someone With Depression
Depression takes a toll not just on the depressed person, but on everyone around them as well. That doesn't mean people with depression should be avoided, it means that loving a person with depression requires just a little bit of extra prep. One Reddit user asked:
People really chimed in on this one! Not just people dating someone with depression, either. A lot of people with depression spoke up sharing the things they want their partners to do or know. Overall, people seemed to agree that it was hard but could be so worthwhile.
As a partner, you can help someone have a happy life, but that is very different from being able to cure someone's depression.
There is an ocean of difference between being supportive in your partner's time of need and being a therapist, you can't do the latter. Treating depression is way above the paygrade of a partner, and should be in the hands of a professional. Think of it like any other health problem, if your partner came home with a broken leg and insisted they didn't need to go to the doctor and all they need is for you to help, you would have their butt in the car/cab/ambulance before they finished the sentence.
Don't burn yourself out trying to fix them, you can't because you aren't the problem. But you can help them get the help they need.
Know that it's OK to feel frustrated and angry about the situation, and not just on behalf of your partner, just because it's hard on you.
Take breaks and assert your need for your own space and taking care of your mental needs as well. If you are exhausted and drained, you aren't any good to anyone, so everyone benefits.
Don't let your partner manipulate you with their depression. Saying things like, "you are the only reason I go on living," is not necessarily romantic. They can make you feel trapped and like you can't be assertive about what you need or have your own space. Be wary of a time when your relationship may switch from you supporting a partner through a health crisis, to you feeling like you are being held hostage by their misery.
Anyone who says, "I can't live without you, if you leave me I will kill myself," is likely not in a state where they can even be a partner to you. You don't have to completely abandon them, but what that person needs is a friend and some serious professional help. That is not a loving thing to say, it's a scary threat - leave.
Keep An Eye Out
Keep an eye on them.
Not like a suspicious side glance, or becoming an overbearing, overwhelming guardian like figure...
But if they're sleeping a little later, a lot more, or they're a bit quieter than usual, or changing the way they eat, or whatever... Just ask what's up? And then just ride through the storm with them. You're not gonna fix it, you really can't. But you can gauge what the temp is, and there are tiny ways you can help.
Only Stay If...
Mainly, it's important to remember that you can't stay with them because you are scared of how their depression would make them react. That will only make you resent them. Only stay if you truly want to stay.
Patience. Some days she wouldn't do anything. Even speak. I just laid with her and waited. She would quietly cry and wouldn't talk to me for hours.
Eventually she said this happens and if I wanted to leave, I could. I said I'd be patient. Eventually I got her to a doctor and after a few months and different cocktails of medicine, she rarely if ever goes catatonic, and has a relatively normal range of emotions.
She still gets bummed out sometimes but it's not as bad.
Now I keep back ups of her medicine in my backpack in case she ever forgets to take them.
It's a lot of effort but I find it's worth it.
We're engaged now and getting married in 2019.
They May Never Get Better
People with chronic depression may never get "better". There will be depressive episodes and incidents for their whole life. So if you're going to be with them, you have to just accept that depression will be there and things still need to get done. You have to keep going.
Basically. just don't stress about it. If they are in a depressive mood, don't get upset about it. When a person without depression gets upset, there is usually a reason and a method to make it better. People with chronic depression are just gonna be sad sometimes, its like a chronic physical illness. You basically need to learn to separate your emotions from theirs, otherwise they're going to bring you down and make you miserable. If it's gotten to the point where they make you miserable 24/7, then just dump them, because you're probably not cut out to handle depression.
You have to be a little bit callused if you want to survive your partner's depression, for the good of them and you.
Empathy And Careful Words
Always try to see things from their perspective. Empathy is important.
If they are having a panic attack, don't tell them to calm down. They know they need to calm down, but its not like a light switch. They can't just stop no matter how bad they want to. They may need a lot of time to calm down, so give that time and show patience instead of saying stuff they already know.
Additionally, always try and point out the positives of every situation. When someone is sad, counting your blessings can be difficult. You may be able to help them by clearly letting them know that yeah, things are bad right now, but its not all that way all the time. Don't point out broad or generic positives like "you're not homeless." It makes it seem like you're grasping at straws or may make them feel guilty for being sad when others have it so much worse. Instead, point out things that are good about the current situation, even if you have to get creative.
All in all, just think about how you say things and what you say very carefully. Always ask yourself how their depression would react to certain words or phrases. You do really have to think before you speak because you can't un-say something.
Use the "Oxygen-mask method."
When the masks fall from a ceiling during a flight, we are told to secure our mask first before assisting others. Make sure you can take care of yourself first and help them second. As most people here have said, you're not a psychiatrist or therapist or counselor. You are there for support and to encourage them to go see those people. It will only make both of your lives worse if your life outside of the relationship is negatively impacted.
Study enough, get to work on time, do what you need to do in your own life so that you can help your partner without worrying about school or work. None of this is your (or your partner's) fault. Lastly and probably most importantly: As much as you really truly wish that your love would be enough to make them better - it won't. It's an important part of your relationship but they need actual help from actual professionals.
Talk About It
We find that as long as we are TALKING (I'm having a bad day, or I'm cranky, or whatever), it makes it so much better.
It puts it out there. If I tell him I'm cranky, he now knows that I'm not slamming the dishes around because I'm mad at him; If he tells me he's had a bad day, I know that his sighs and anger-growls aren't directed at me. Without the communication, the frustration, depression, etc just feeds into a cycle until we are both in such a state that...well, it just goes poorly.
And, if your partner tells you that they're having a bad day...it can reset focus. It gives you a chance to take a step back, and decide to focus on THEM instead. And if you're also having a bad day, it gives them a chance to do the same.
Or, you can both accept that it's just one of those days where each of you just needs to...just be. Be in that funk, or do whatever it is to help improve your mood in whatever way you can.
Talking about it is so, so crucial.
The Downward Spiral
If you start to feel the downward spiral yourself, it might be time to leave.
My ex GF suffered from depression. We dated for 7 years, and she was very depressed for probably the last 5 of those years. I am the opposite--always upbeat, can have fun anywhere, very happy almost always. Her depression wore on me, and home wasn't a happy place anymore. I noticed near the end that I was staying at work later to avoid coming home, since it was always darkened, and she was ALWAYS in bed, under the covers, reading amateur romance web comics/novels. The only light in the apartment was her laptop screen illuminating her face. She never wanted to go anywhere, do anything, talk, or have sex. I hated going home, and I hated the relationship I was in. After some time, I noticed that I wasn't happy myself. I was no longer upbeat. No longer smiling just because. I was getting depressed. She was making me depressed. And I knew I had to get out. So I did.
That time of my life, when I look back at it, has a dark filter in my memories. I think I dodged a bullet. I was being pulled into her depression spiral, and nearly went head first. It's not her fault. I don't blame her. But I had to look after my own mental health, and I knew that I had to go.
Don't feel like you need to stay in any relationship out of a sense of obligation, or feel like you're a shitty person for breaking up with someone because they're depressed. Make that evaluation yourself.
They Need To Get Help
I have depression and am currently going on dates with a lady friend. I've made it a point in my life to try to unload as little emotional baggage on friends and partners as possible, because I have a therapist who is paid to listen to me. Point being, don't be in a relationship with someone with depression unless they're getting the help they need, and making an active effort to use it.
...I know this is hypocritical, but to be honest this makes me unsure if I'm strong enough to commit to move on from casual dating and commit to a relationship.
Another person said the same thing but from a different perspective:
Force them into therapy. I didn't do this with my partner and he started hitting me. If they refuse to go, dump their ass.
Initiate The Healing Process
Take the time to initiate the healing process after a fight. This really only matters if the depressed person is willing to admit they're wrong when they are. Don't be with someone who makes you the bad guy all the time.
Communication is very important and making amends can really take the stress off of the mind of the depressed. What could be a bit of anger for you could be torture for them, even little things can make depression spiral out of control. Especially if you're in a serious relationship, your words and opinions should mean a great deal to them. If you're upset with them, they might feel double the pain from being upset with themselves for making you upset.
Of course, there are a great deal of depressed folk who are actually really crappy people just like there are in any group. So if they're a nice person then this relates, if they're not nice people then it's not worth the hassle.
You Need A Professional
Understand that depression is a disease. Like any disease, it needs to be treated by an appropriate, impartial professional. Do not fancy yourself the knight in shining armor who will pluck your beloved from the bell jar to live happily ever after. If you can't let go of that fantasy, you need to let go of the relationship sooner rather than later.
As a partner, it is not your place to offer unsolicited medical or psychiatric advice. It is especially not your place to do so if you aren't qualified to treat depression as a doctor or mental health professional. If you are asked for your input, encourage your partner to seek treatment from a professional, or to seek a second opinion if they express a lack of faith in their current one. Be a neutral sounding board. Acknowledge and validate their feelings without taking a position on the details of their care or their illness. Leave the rest to the experts.
If you or someone else in your life has also been diagnosed with depression, resist the urge to project these experiences onto your partner's situation. Everyone's symptoms are different. Everyone responds differently to medication and therapy.
If you have a mood disorder yourself, or if you're emotionally vulnerable for whatever reason, proceed with extreme caution. Think carefully about how constant exposure to a significant other's depressive symptoms will affect you. If you decide to move forward, be proactive and diligent about self-care. _Your mental health comes first._If you wind up in psychological distress as a result of the relationship, you impose an unnecessary burden on an already burdened partner, and both of you will suffer for it. There is no shame in admitting that you aren't well-suited for this particular challenge. The earlier you're able to come to terms with this, the easier it will be for both of you.
Read the f^ck out of whatever reliable sources you can find about depression for the sake of being knowledgeable enough not to put your foot in your mouth, but for the love of all that is holy do not let this tempt you into playing therapist. This is for your own edification, not so you can fix your partner or show off.
That said, no matter how much you study, if you do not have a confirmed diagnosis of depression yourself, you don't understand their experience. Not fully. Sometimes, you'll have to take them at their word, because you'll never be able to wrap your head around the matter at hand. You will need to accept and embrace this as fact for the relationship to work. Some people have difficulty with the concept that a relatively advantaged person cannot fully understand the experience of a relatively disadvantaged person, or that the disadvantaged person's voice carries more weight with regard to their own experience. If you're the kind of person whose hackles get raised when someone suggests that your privilege be checked, you have some reckoning to do before take the relationship to the next level.
"Determined To Drown"
"You can't save someone who is determined to drown"
It's a horrible phrase, but if someone has the means and just refuses to get the help they need (therapist, medication, abuses substances as a quick cover, etc) then they have decided and are determined to drown themselves. Depression isn't a rational illness, and there are times someone will actively fight against getting better.
You can beg, and plead, and fight, and drag them to therapy, and sit in sessions with them - but they have to do the work and if they refuse there is literally nothing more you can do. It's heartbreaking.
It comes from the metaphor that depression is like drowning in the ocean. Certain things will make you drown quicker and some things will give you something to float on the surface but unless you find and work through the causes you won't ever get out of the water
Know What You're Getting Into
If you can't handle someone who needs emotional support, don't get in a relationship with them. It might sound bad, but people battling depression need monitoring and support. Someone who can see past the facade they sometimes put up to hide their pain. Honestly, anyone with something like PTSD, Depression, BiPolar, Anxiety, etc, they need someone who is willing to listen and be there for them. I do agree with the person who said you can't be a partner and a counselor, but having been in that relationship before, you do end up being that from time to time.
If you make the decission to stay, you have to realize this is the situation you have to deal with, you have to be supportive but also need to take care of yourself. You matter too. Put yourself in your partner's shoes, support her on sticking to treatment/meds, if you can, find some activities you can do together, even ifit's just playing checkers, but also try and do something that gets you out of the house, a hobbie, spend some time with your friends. And keep in mind this situation may not be long term.
Having said that... You have all the right to walk out of that relationship if you can't or won't deal with it.
You have to think of yourself and your own wellbeing/mental health. It doesn't make you a bad person to get out of it. It's your choice.
It's Nothing Personal
It's not a reflection on how good or bad a partner you are. Try not to take it personally. I've known people who think if someone is still depressed while dating them that they must be doing something wrong. That they're not good enough to make them happy, etc etc. And that's so completely not the case.. Unfortunately mental illnesses don't just disappear once you're in a relationship. Someone could be in a relationship that they're really happy with and still be struggling badly with depression. It's really not a reflection on the partner.
Dealing with depression is difficult and exhausting for everyone involved, including your SO. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of confidence in oneself, and a strong foundation of healthy communication skills in order to make a relationship work through depression.
My partner has suffered from depression for longer than I can remember (and I've known her since grade school). There are ups and downs, for sure. But even at her lowest points she's a compassionate, hard-working person who loves me and wants the best for me. I love her and want the best for her. The hardest thing is to acknowledge that sometimes, helping her is just not possible and I have to back off for my own sanity. A major depressive episode is like a bottomless pit, and you can throw energy into it until you have none left and not even make a dent for the person you're trying to help. When it's like that, the only thing I can do as a supportive partner is let her know my love for her has no limits by my actions do.
That is something they have to understand from their end too. If your relationships are to last through the darkest times, you have to be able to love someone even when they set limits on their love. They have to be proactive about their own mental health and ongoing support (therapists, trusted friends, self care, etc). They may never be able to "fix" their depression, but they need manage it to the best of their abilities.
You must have multiple sources of support. Your partner must have several sources of support as well. If you rely only on each other you will both burn out. Lean on friends and family when you can. See a therapist - and maybe your SO could see one too. You both need to be able to say "I can't handle helping you right now, please turn to someone else." But in order to say that you need to have someone else to turn to.
My relationship with my partner is getting better over time. We know each other better every year, and she knows more about how to take care of herself every year. Her depression is never going to go away... but we work through it because the good is worth more than the bad.
Don't Feel Bad
Don't feel bad or scared if you need leave them. They might even kind of want you to. Source: currently in treatment for depression, too depressed/weak to break up with my lady even though I want to.
Call Them Out
It might sound harsh but don't let them get away with too much because that they are ill. A certain number of allowances for their illness is called for, but if they are rude, mean or inconsiderate, call them out on it. Don't be afraid to ask them when YOU need something - just be specific in what you need them to do, e.g. 'do the dishes today please' as appose to 'do more around the house'.
If the person is willing to work on their illness then you should get down in the weeds with them, encourage their treatment, and be as involved as you can. You can't anchor yourself to a sinking ship. They need to do the work, you are just support. If you are some person with a unfufilled savior complex then move along, it doesn't work like that.
Have Your Own Space
My wife of 10 years has had depression for a couple of years as a side-effect of a physical illness she has. She feels useless and it hurts her mentally. I've learned through trial and error that you can never be their councilor. Support them and help them, but never tell them how to get better.
Having your own space is incredibly important because I don't have the motivation to help her if I never have any time to myself.