Pretending the other person is okay, or telling them they will ‘snap out of it’, just means the other person feels guilty. And guilt is like wood to a fire when it comes to depression. It means your partner will feel worse, not better.
Like it or not, your partner is depressed, and there is no telling when it will end. Depression follows nobody’s time line. (Although on a good note, it always does end, eventually).
2. Do your research.
With the amount of information now out there about depression, there is no excuse for not understanding it.
Information and research is to help you be more empathetic, not to help you play shrink.
When someone is depressed, their mind is already analysing them non stop, deeming them not worthy, sick, hopeless, or even ‘evil’ and ‘bad for others’. The last thing they need is you to give them any other diagnostic to add to the list, even if well intentioned.
4. Instead, listen.
Good listening means being fully present and focused, not assuming you know what they mean but asking, not thinking about other things or what you’ll stay next. It means reflecting back and asking good questions.
No matter how depressed your partner gets, or what sensational things they say, they are still that person you know and love.
If it helps, see depression as a sort of virus. Would you blame someone with the flu for moaning about feeling terrible?
6. But do have boundaries.
This is not to say you should let a partner treat you badly, depression or no. Some people can regress with depression, acting like an angry child, and might even be relieved you are setting some firm boundaries around what they can and can’t say to you or can and can’t do.
It can help to write the boundaries down when dating someone with depression. This could mean sending an email, so there is no room for pretending limits weren’t set. Start the mail with positives and be calm and kind. “You are an important person I care about, I know you are going through a rough patch, but….”.
Another important boundary here is to maintain your own life. You are not a nurse, you can’t be there for someone else 24 seven. Like the airplane mask situation, where you must put on your own mask first, you need to take care of yourself when supporting someone with depression.
When you are around a partner with depression it’s best to encourage healthy living and self-care until they feel better. Keep the wine binge for a night out with your friends.
8. Talk to the person you know, not the depression.
If you respond to all the things your partner says due to depression, you will rush headlong into relationship conflict.
How to know the difference?Depression-talk is made up of cognitive distortions, which is what it sounds like — distorted reality. So it is black-and-white, dramatic, doom and gloom. It starts with qualifiers like ‘never, always’. And it’s things your partner doesn’t usually say.
“You always think of yourself.”
“You never understand.”
“It’s pointless to try.”
“This is the worse day of my life.”
“Nobody would care if I was here or not.”
What to do when your partner starts down these roads? Don’t brush the person off, which will cause a shame spiral or leave them pushing harder for you to hear them. So do validate. But also let them know you are not buying it.
“So you feel like it’s pointless to try anymore in life, I get that, life can be tough. But I also know that this is depression talking and that you have a lot of inner resources when you are not depressed.”
9. Don’t let the depression dictate everything.
They will tell you to leave, that they don’t want to see anyone, to just go away, that you know nothing. This is the depression talking.
Remember who they are, and what they do like. If you know they don’t like being alone then don’t leave when they claim they want you to but stay.
It is true that dealing with a partner’s depression can be overwhelming, particularly if you are very invested in that person’s wellbeing. And it’s not that you can’t talk in broad strokes to friends and say you are overwhelmed, or perhaps vent with one person who is in on the entire situation, like your partner’s sibling or family.
Just remember depression comes dressed in shame. If your partner is not hiding from you but is letting you seem them in full blown depression, it is because they trust you.
Turning around and telling others everything they said or did due to depression will be seen as (and is) a breach of trust.
You do not have to stay with someone just because they are depressed. It’s better to be honest. Tell them you are not happy in the relationship, and then help them get support (more on that in the next point). It might even be that they don’t want to be in the relationship either, or that it’s part of their depression, and that they have been afraid to say.
And if you are teen in a relationship? It’s possible one or both of you is only in the relationship as they think they ‘should’ be in one. But this tactic only leads to low moods. A 2019 study from the University of Georgia actually found that students who didn’t date were less likely to be depressed!
12. Consider support.
For your partner? Unfortunately that is up to them. You can not make someone go to therapy, and should never book an appointment for someone and trick them into going. You can tell them you think it’s a good idea, or present them with a list of local therapists with good reviews, and free helplines to call. But you have to leave it at that.
But consider support for yourself if you feel overwhelmed, particularly if this is a pattern in your life, always choosing partners with problems. It might be you have your own issues to resolve that are being triggered by your partner’s issues. And choosing to seek support yourself and leading by example can be the best way to encourage others to do so.
Want to share your experience about dating someone with depression? Use the comment box below. Comments moderated to protect other readers.
Andrea Blundell is the editor and lead writer of this site. With training in person centred counselling and coaching, she loves to write about relationships and trauma. She has on both sides of the depression in relationships equation.