After a year-and-a-half of dating, my boyfriend and I were seriously discussing marriage, but he ended the relationship when I couldn’t “snap out of” an episode of depression in a few months.
In retrospect, this man was not a good match for me, but it was still a very painful experience, both because a serious relationship had ended and because I felt ashamed and thought that my depression had made me unlovable. Since this experience, I have learned a lot about my mental health and no longer feel ashamed of something beyond my control.
With this self-knowledge, caring for my mental health has played a more positive role in all my other relationships. I have been able to communicate effectively about my health to significant others (and now to my husband). Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that might help if you find yourself dating someone who develops depression.
Depression can seriously alter your significant other’s mood, energy level, desire to be around others, and interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may have crying spells, feelings of hopelessness, insomnia or over-sleeping, and changes in appetite. These changes are certainly difficult for both of you, but they don’t have to mean the death of a relationship. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Depression is real and may last a long time
First, be aware that your significant other can’t “snap out of it.” Telling them to lighten up or discrediting their feelings with phrases like “you’re fine,” “you’re being melodramatic,” or “it’s all in your head” are not helpful approaches.
Be aware that there is no timeline for getting better. For some people, depression can last a few weeks, but others may be afflicted with symptoms for years. Demanding that your loved one go back to their old self by a certain deadline won’t help the situation. Remember that they didn’t choose these symptoms and they are suffering as well.
Learn about depression
Learning about their symptoms and what they are going through can build your empathy and show your significant other that you care about their health and well-being. Depression is commonly caused by a stressful situation or event, family history, or seasonal changes, among other things. There may also not be a readily identifiable reason. Taking some time to learn about depression can be helpful in understanding what your partner is going through.
Encourage them to seek professional help
There are many effective treatments for depression, but doing nothing and hoping that symptoms will magically disappear is not one of them. Your role in their recovery is to support them, not to try to fix them or force them into a certain treatment.
Only the person going through depression and their mental health, or medical professional, can decide which treatments will be best. Encourage them to see their doctor or make an appointment with a counselor. You can even offer to go with them if they are uncomfortable seeking help alone. There are also support groups or self-help books that the two of you could try together.
Exercise, have fun together, laugh
Depression doesn’t have to make your relationship serious and dour all the time. In fact, having fun together and doing the things you both used to enjoy before depression can be a temporary remedy for lowered moods and part of a long-term plan to get well.
The best types of activities to do with a depressed person are ones that will create positive energy. Do something new and exciting, like exploring an area of your town that you’ve never been to before, trying a new activity, or eating at an ethnic restaurant you are unfamiliar with. Find something that makes you both laugh, like a comedy show, movie, or game night with friends.
Exercise is a natural way to boost serotonin and mood. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to get exercise: walk around the block, toss a frisbee around, or check out a hiking trail at a local park.
If dating someone with depression is too much for you to handle, it is best to be honest with them and end the relationship. Dating someone out of pity or obligation is not fair to either party and will only breed resentment and unhappiness. Dragging out a relationship and hoping that the other person will change or “snap out of it” is unrealistic. If they aren’t the right person for you, ending the relationship will allow both of you to move on to find someone who is a good fit.
Depression doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker for every couple. Although my ex-boyfriend found my depression off-putting, I was depressed while dating my husband, and he was not bothered at all by my symptoms. Our relationship blossomed into love and marriage, even while I was going through depression.
Like any good relationship, clear communication, empathy, and common values are the foundations for success while dating someone with depression.