Dating Someone With Depression? Here’s Tips for How to Help Your Partner
Around 21 million adults and 5 million adolescents in the U.S. have experienced depression, so if your partner is one of them, you’re far from alone. Here’s how you can be supportive when dating someone with depression.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
October 10, 2023
Table of Contents
Approximately 21 million adults and 5 million adolescents in the U.S. have experienced depression, meaning millions may be in romantic relationships impacted by the condition. If you’re dating someone with depression, here are two important things to keep in mind: 1) You’re far from alone, and 2) there are ways you can help your partner.
Depression is a mental health condition marked by feeling very sad and losing interest in what used to bring someone joy. It can be a debilitating condition that makes daily life difficult to lead. Keep reading to understand what it’s like for your partner to have depression, and learn tips for how you can provide them the best support possible.
How can you support your partner if they have depression?
There isn’t a right way to support a partner struggling with depressive symptoms. Everyone is different, so you need to ask your partner directly how you can be there for them. Here are some helpful ways to start the conversation.
Create a safe space to talk about depression with active listening
Learn more about depression so you’re prepared to offer support
Ask your partner how they want to be supported
Know your limits and when it’s time to get professional help
Share resources for dealing with depression
Remember to take care of yourself, too
1. Create a safe space to talk about depression
One of the most important ways to be there for someone you care about is to listen. Talking about their experience isn’t the time for judgment, assumptions, or making things about you. This is a time to ask thoughtful questions, actively listen to what they’re going through, and validate what you’re hearing so you can better understand how you can support them.
A useful strategy for active listening is reflective listening. Reflective listening looks like repeating or summarizing what you’ve heard to demonstrate you’re on the same page and using “I feel” statements to show your empathy. You can also ask open-ended questions, typically starting with “what” or “how,” to learn more about what your partner may need. For instance, if your partner says they are struggling to motivate themselves to go to a book club you know they love, you might say: “It sounds like you’re having a hard time finding the energy to go to book club. I feel sad to think you might not go because I know it’s a group you love. How can I support you?”
2. Learn more about depression
Although every individual’s experience with depression differs, when you have a baseline of information, you’re better prepared to delve deeper into conversations. If your partner has been diagnosed with depressive symptoms or major depressive disorder, you can learn more about the symptoms and what kinds of depression treatment may be helpful.
Doing your own research is also a good way to demonstrate just how much you care about what they’re going through. It’s critical, though, to remember that your partner’s experience won’t be the same as what you read in a book or article. This is why active listening is important. Once you know the basics about depression, you can ask questions about how it shows up for your partner, what could potentially trigger more distressing symptoms, and what makes them feel better.
3. Check in with your partner to see how they want to be supported
Articles like this one can help you begin to understand how best to be there for your partner, but like we’ve said, everyone’s different. It’s important to ask one simple yet meaningful question: How can I support you?
For some people, doing fun things together might be really helpful. For others, having daily check-ins will help make sure they feel heard and validated in their experience. Whatever their preferences are, you won’t know until you ask.
4. Know your limits
As much as you may love your partner, you can’t be everything for them. Some things will be beyond your limits as a partner. For example: You can listen and reflect back what you hear, but you can’t provide the kind of purely objective, expert support a professional therapist can. That’s not your job as a partner. Know what you can and can’t do for your partner, and be willing to help them find more support when needed.
5. Share resources
If your partner is open to receiving resources from you, knowing what’s available can be really helpful. Here are some examples of resources that may be helpful for a partner dealing with depressive symptoms or major depressive disorder.
Your partner can talk to their parents or healthcare provider about finding a therapist. They can also reach out directly to providers like Charlie Health (more on this below), who specialize in supporting young people with more challenging mental health symptoms.
Two types of therapy have been shown to be especially effective for young people struggling with depression. One is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based psychotherapy that helps people identify and change the negative thought patterns that lead to depressive symptoms. The other is interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), which focuses on addressing relationship problems. Among adolescents, IPT prioritizes relevant topics like improving romantic and sexual relationships, dealing with peer pressure, and managing parental conflict.
Some young people with depression may also benefit from taking medication. The most commonly prescribed antidepressant medication among young people is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs include medications like fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro).
Support groups are a great way for your partner to connect with others going through similar experiences and open up about their own challenges without fear of judgment or stigma. Even online support groups provide the kind of social support that can be really helpful for young people struggling with depressive symptoms and mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a good resource for peer support groups for people with depression and their loved ones. Charlie Health’s Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers young people access to virtual supported groups facilitated by mental health professionals.
If you’re worried that your partner is in danger of hurting themselves, this is a mental health emergency. In those moments, it’s crucial to encourage your partner to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the Crisis Text Line.
If your partner is feeling especially depressed, there are simple exercises that can help improve their mood and make depressive symptoms more manageable. Here are some examples of mood-boosting exercises that may help with depression symptoms:
- Yoga breathing: Research shows that yoga breathing can help with managing depression symptoms. The technique involves alternating slow and calm breaths with fast, more stimulating breaths to reach a meditative state.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a practice that’s also shown to improve depression as well as anxiety. In simple terms, mindfulness is being aware and present in the moment. Breathing exercises like yoga breathing can help with mindfulness. There are also many apps that offer guided meditations for those who are newer to the practice.
- Going outside for a walk: Just 15 minutes of aerobic exercise—which brisk walking counts as—can kick breathing and heart rate up enough to fill the body with mood-boosting endorphins.
6. Remember to take care of yourself, too
Your mental health also matters. Consider going into therapy if your emotional well-being is affected by your relationship or other areas of life. If your mental health isn’t enough reason to take care of yourself, which it should be, know that no one can show up for another person if they’re not showing up for themselves.
Part of taking care of yourself may also involve self-care, which looks different for different people. If you need ideas for how to prioritize yourself while supporting others, read our article on self-care for young people.
How can depression impact romantic relationships?
Having a mental health condition of any kind can impact all types of relationships. Depression, research shows, is no exception: Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is evidence that one person’s depression in a relationship can affect the other person’s mental health.
A study of adults with depression in romantic relationships found a link between depression and increased relationship conflict, decreased usage of constructive problem-solving tactics, more negative interactions, decreased satisfaction, feelings of not being supported, decreased security in relationships, and increased likelihood of breaking up. On the flip side, though, depression can also result from unhappiness or feelings of rejection in relationships, family relationships included, the research shows.
Among young people who experience depression and are in romantic relationships, the research is more limited. That said, a 188-person study published in 2012 found that depressive symptoms in adolescence may impact romantic relationships in the long term. The researchers concluded that early identification and treatment of depression support better-quality relationships even in adulthood. Another more recent study with a slightly larger sample size (149 opposite-sex adolescent couples) also found that depressive symptoms can prevent higher-quality romantic relationships.
Although depression can play a role in the quality of romantic relationships, that doesn’t mean someone who experiences depressive symptoms can’t have a happy and healthy relationship. These studies underscore the importance of getting people the support they need to lead lives and have the healthy relationships they want.
How do you know if you’re dating someone with depression?
Depressive symptoms look different in different people, so they may or may not be recognizable in your partner. For children and adolescents specifically, some of the more common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent low mood
- Intrusive thoughts about death or dying by suicide
- Disinterest in activities someone used to enjoy
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Increased use of substances (e.g., alcohol, drugs)
- Sleep disruptions
- Appetite changes
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Increase in “high-risk” behaviors (e.g., speeding, unprotected sex)
But just because you notice some of these signs in a partner doesn’t mean they necessarily have depression. Clinical depression (often referred to as major depressive disorder) can’t be diagnosed without meeting with a healthcare provider or mental health professional.
Getting support for depression at Charlie Health
If depression is getting in the way of you living your life, Charlie Health’s IOP offers comprehensive and evidence-based depression treatment from the comfort of your home.
Our IOP is right for young people who would benefit from a higher level of care than weekly therapy sessions but don’t need 24-7 support. With our virtual IOP, young people can attend individual therapy sessions, supported groups with peers, and family therapy when it works for them. Taking time off from school, work, or relationships isn’t required.
At Charlie Health, our trauma-informed mental health professionals are experienced with compassionately treating depressive symptoms in young people, using CBT and other supportive therapies. And we make mental healthcare as accessible as possible by accepting major insurance plans and Medicaid in many states. If we don’t take your insurance, we can help you find someone who does.
Fill out this short form today to learn more about our program.