Dating someone with depression can be challenging because it’s difficult to see someone you care about struggle. If your partner has depression, they may feel hopeless or show signs of social withdrawal, which can leave you feeling like you did something wrong when you did not. Understanding depression can help you communicate with your partner when their depression manifests.
What to Say When a First Date Tells You They Have Depression
If a first date tells you they deal with depression, you may have a lot of questions and concerns. You might be curious about how severe their depression is, what it’s like for them when they experience depression symptoms, and how this has impacted their romantic relationships.
While there are no rules for how to respond to this, if you’re interested in this person and want to know more, it’s important to be sensitive and nonjudgmental while inquiring further; many people try to hide their depression (i.e., smiling depression), so take it as a sign of respect and openness that they chose to share.
“Although a lot of work has been done to combat the stigma of mental illness, it is still very prevalent and hard for people to share something so vulnerable and personal. If a first date tells you they have depression, I would encourage you to thank them for telling you and to acknowledge that it must not have been easy for them to share.” – Kimberly Panganiban, LMFT
“If this is a deal breaker for you, which is totally fine, then you need to be clear about that and politely end the date. This may sound harsh but hanging in there with someone who has a disease that you don’t want to have in your life is not going to help anyone.” – Krista Jordan, PhD.
19 Tips For Dating Someone With Depression
Dating someone with depression can be taxing on both you and your partner. However, through self-education, communication, and taking care of your own mental health, you can have a healthy relationship with someone with depression, support them, and help them understand how to treat depression.
Here are 19 tips for dating someone with depression:
1. Make Sure You Know the Type of Depression They’re Dealing With
“There are various types of depression, so in order for someone to be supportive of their partner it’s important to understand the depression diagnosis and possible root causes. For example, bipolar disorder depression is very different from persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) or reactive depression. Understanding the diagnosis will also help in planning the right treatment.” – Mary Rzeszut, MSW, LCSW-R & Grouport Therapist
2. Let Them Know You’re There For Them
“A person with depression feels the need to be heard and understood. So, try your best to be there for them, and let them know that they’ve got someone who’s there for them. Let them know they’re heard, seen, and understood. Let them know that their pain is also heard, seen, and understood. You can use phrases such as ‘I hear you. I’m here for you.’” – Callisto Adams, Ph.D.
3. Communicate, Listen, & Understand
“It is important for you to open the lines of communication with your partner so that depression can be openly discussed between the two of you. They need to feel comfortable sharing how they are feeling and what they need and you need to feel comfortable expressing concern in a gentle manner if you notice that their depression is returning/worsening. Often, people close to someone with depression notice it coming before the individual does. Early intervention is key to not letting the depression spiral.” – Kimberly Panganiban, LMFT
4. Be Empathetic
“‘I’m so glad you told me you were feeling down,’ or, ‘Thank you for sharing.’ Don’t minimize their feelings. Although often well-meaning, telling someone you’re dating that, ‘It’s not that big of a deal,’ or ‘It could be worse’ will leave them feeling like you don’t understand and may ultimately lead to them shutting you out.” – Kristen Montiel, LMFT, CAP, Clinical Director at Family Therapy Associates
5. Remember, it’s Not About You
“The fact is that it’s not about you, but instead, that your partner has a relationship with their depression—their mood is driving how they show up in the relationship. And it can be scary not knowing if your relationship will survive the low periods of their depression. Most mental challenges are predetermined by genetics and can be exacerbated by life’s stressors. Visualize yourself from their perspective and educate yourself with therapist-recommended reading materials so you become more educated on the topic. Ask if you can have a session alone with their therapist in order to learn productive ways to not accommodate the depression, when to intervene, and when to let them work through their own strategies.” – Molly Mahoney, LCSW, owner of True Therapy
6. Learn Their Love Language
“Focusing on your partner’s love language can be a helpful tool in supporting them. Many folks with depression struggle with low self-esteem or low self-worth, so making the effort to communicate with your partner in their love language can go a long way to help reassure and affirm them.” – Laura Sgro, LCSW
7. Join In With Their Self-Care Activities
“It’s important to understand how to support someone who is depressed, however, you need to know that you cannot ‘fix’ them. Be there to listen. Pay them compliments. Join them in meditation or yoga practice. Be gentle, and never force them into an activity they don’t want to do.” – Dr. Shantel Gallegos, RN, MSN, APRN, PMHNP-BC of Vitalitas Denver
8. Don’t Shame Them or Blame the Depression
“If your partner doesn’t want to go out for dinner or partake in an activity, avoid blaming it on their depression – or assigning depression as the reason behind their decisions – because that creates a shame loop. Help them feel encouraged to make decisions by not making those assignments. They will need to feel empowered to successfully slay their bouts of depression and not labeling their choices will help.” – Molly Mahoney, LCSW, owner of True Therapy
9. Be Flexible
“Remember that there will be better and worse days. When your partner is having a difficult day, do not personalize it. The negative feelings are not about you. They stem from depression.” – Matthew Glowiak, PhD, LCPC
10. Establish Self-Care Routines & Boundaries
“Practice self-care—eat healthy, get sleep, manage your stress, socialize with close friends, even see a therapist to help keep yourself on an even keel. That will help avoid adding your problems to the existing problem of depression in the system. This isn’t the same as you trying to fix your partner, it’s just keeping the environment from getting more dysfunctional due to your own emotional issues.” – Krista Jordan, PhD
11. Don’t Try to Be Overly Positive About it
“Maybe the most important point is that forced, toxic positivity won’t work. Listen actively and offer empathy. What does this look like? Instead of saying, ‘Here’s the silver lining’ or trying to offer a quick fix, shift it to, ‘That must be hard, I’m here for you.’ In the same way, depression makes even small tasks seem difficult. Saying things like, ‘you should get some fresh air’ likely won’t help. But if you ask them to do something with you, your message might be heard—‘I’d love to get some fresh air. Want to go for a walk?’” – Briana MacWilliam, Expressive Arts Therapist
12. Don’t Take Their Moods Personally
“Depression can cause people to lash out at those they love the most, so try not to take it personally when your partner is upset with you. Their moodiness often has nothing to do with you.” – Valentina Dragomir, Psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus
13. Provide Practical Help
“Offer to drive them to appointments (therapy, medical doctor)…Along those lines if they are having trouble finding a therapist or psychiatrist you can offer to look for them and set up an initial appointment. Normally this would be coddling, but when someone is depressed their brain is literally not functioning normally. Their processing slows down and their higher cognitive functions are impaired. It can be harder to see options, make decisions or organize things.” – Krista Jordan, PhD
14. Don’t Push Them to Be Happy All the Time
“Be understanding if they want to take a break from social events or don’t feel like going out one evening. Try to figure out what makes them happy and do it whenever you can, but don’t expect them to always be full of energy and enthusiasm.” – Valentina Dragomir, Psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus
15. Be Attentive
“When you notice depression symptoms and signs, see whether there is anything you can do to help. Encourage your partner to take preventative measures such as exercising, eating well, and seeking professional mental health assistance.” – Sonia Martin, LCSW
16. Notice Their Growth
“Be sure to notice and verbalize any positive changes. Recognize their successes because they may not notice their own improvements, so it’s helpful if you can detect and highlight those good moments openly.” – Molly Mahoney, LCSW, owner of True Therapy
17. Tackle the Depression as a Team
“While we have certainly come a long way in reducing the stigma around mental illness, the reality is that there often still is stigma attached to any kind of psychological diagnosis. Because of this, it’s imperative that supportive partners adopt an attitude of compassion for and collaboration with their partners with depression. Being a team might look like aligning with the depressed partner’s therapeutic goals, taking care of practical barriers (i.e. arranging childcare so a parent can attend therapy), and learning what words/actions are helpful and encouraging.” – Heather Yassick, MS, LMHC & Grouport Therapist
18. Know When to Step In to Solve a Problem & Know When to Step Back in Support
“Sometimes your partner does not need you to come up with solutions to their depression. They may just need you there to sit with them and offer support. Talk with your partner about their needs and when they need you to step in with a more active stance.” – Jackie Darby, Psy.D., CGP
19. Consider Seeing a Sex Therapist
“If medication for depression such as an SSRI antidepressant is prescribed, they usually come with common side effects including decreased libido and sexual performance, changes in sleep, appetite, and potential weight fluctuations. Some of these side effects will lessen over time but it’s important to discuss new ways to be intimate and work with a therapist who specializes in sexual intimacy. You’ll need to be vulnerable enough to be open and get creative in this regard.” – Molly Mahoney, LCSW, owner of True Therapy
How Do I Support Someone I’ve Been Dating for a While Who Just Got Diagnosed?
Maybe you’ve been with your partner for several years, and they’ve just gotten a diagnosis of depression. This can be tricky to navigate, but obviously, if you’ve been with your partner for a while, you truly want the best for them, and you may have even noticed the depression before they did. Stay calm and understand that, with professional treatment, your partner’s depression can get better.
Here are 11 tips for supporting a long-term partner with a new depression diagnosis:
1. Be Understanding & Supportive
“Remember that your partner is going through a tough time, and they need your support more than ever. Don’t get frustrated if they don’t feel like doing anything or if their mood changes rapidly. Just be there for them and let them know that you love them no matter what.” – Valentina Dragomir, Psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus
2. Ask What Your Loved One Needs
“Be responsive and open to what your partner requests. This may include openly talking about depression, educating yourself on the topic, attending counseling sessions together, and making some necessary life adjustments to be more supportive.” – Matthew Glowiak, PhD, LCPC
3. Don’t Put Pressure On Yourself to Have All the Answers
“Especially for those that are in long term relationships, it can feel like you’ve done something wrong that your partner could be experiencing depression. Be compassionate with yourself and acknowledge that you aren’t expected to ‘fix’ or ‘solve’ the situation, just as you didn’t ‘cause’ it. It’s important to remember that the support of a licensed therapist may be beneficial for those who experience symptoms of depression that interfere with daily life.” – Anisha Patel-Dunn, D.O., Chief Medical Officer at LifeStance Health
4. Help Your Partner Do What the Doctor Says, But Don’t Take Charge
“Managing depression is a big adjustment, so help your partner remember to take medicine, keep doctor appointments, and do whatever exercise, medical at-home procedures, or other self-care processes. However, make sure these things are still your partner’s responsibility to do. Both of you will feel better if you are supportive, not parental.” – Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today
5. Normalize Depression
“Normalizing their experience is so crucial! It’s easy for someone to feel like they might be ‘crazy,’ or that nobody understands what they’re going through. Even if this isn’t a struggle that you may have experienced, letting them know that they’re not alone is a great way to support them.” – Laura Sgro, LCSW
6. Hug Them
“Positive physical touch such as hugging is known for releasing serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine in our brains. It’s a non-verbal way of letting your partner know they’re not alone.” – Callisto Adams, Ph.D.
7. Don’t Try to Be Their Therapist
“One of the most important things that you can do if you’re with a partner that struggles with depression is to have a healthy boundary with what is not yours to ‘fix’ or ‘take on.’ Meaning, your partner’s depression is NOT yours. It’s important for you to stay healthy and mentally well and if your partner has a level of depression that’s in need of professional help, it’s necessary for you to stay away from any ‘therapist’ role within your relationship. The best thing that you can do is continue to do all the things that you need to do on the daily to stay physically and mentally healthy. That will help you see the truth of the connection and if your partner is in a space to provide the support and love that you also need as being on the other end of the relationship with someone struggling with their mental health.” – Kim Egel, LMFT
8. Keep Your Romance Alive
“Find as many ways as you can to let each other know you love one another. However you may have to adjust your sexual life, do it. Do whatever you can to keep your physical connection alive within the limits of the illness. Have as much fun as you can, every chance you get. Make it a challenge to discover new ways to enjoy each other, and to relax and laugh together.” – Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today
9. Be Patient
“When dating someone who is either struggling or has been recently diagnosed with depression, the need for patience and support is vital. Realize the full impact of what this individual is dealing with. First, there is how they feel – and this can be a debilitating diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is also still a stigma associated with mental health, and the individual suffers the social/societal impacts of that stigma. Finally, there is the aspect of how the individual internalizes those societal experiences. As you can see, there is a lot going on here. That said, your help and encouragement can be a lifeline to someone struggling with depression.” – Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP, Chief Clinical Officer, Foundations Wellness Center
10. Encourage Them to Look Into Taking a Brief Leave From Work
“There can also be added complications with suffering work (or family) obligations that can compound all of this even more. Encouraging your partner to educate themselves on short-term disability leave and protocols their employer may offer is a good idea. If they are able to take time off work for mental health, advocate for your partner to be active in therapy, read books, and stick to routines to maximize their leave.” – Molly Mahoney, LCSW, owner of True Therapy
11. Don’t Give Up Hope – Depression Can Be Treated!
“It’s important to try and get them help for their depression as soon as possible so that everyone involved can be happy. Try not to feel discouraged if they don’t immediately take an interest in your suggestions for treatment. They might just need a little time to reflect on things before making a decision.” – Valentina Dragomir, Psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus
Make Sure You’re Caring for Your Own Mental Health, Too
It’s important to learn how to cope without “being dragged down” into depression. Find ways of coping and understanding the depression so you don’t feel responsible. Engage in self-care and physical activity, and reach out to your support network.
“When dating someone with depression self-care becomes paramount to the success of the relationship. Dealing with depression can be draining, therefore, it is essential to balance with activities that recharge us. Consider what hobbies, activities or interests you can invest your time in to allow you to feel fulfilled.” – Julia Chamberlain, LMHC
Join a Support Group
“Being in a long-term relationship with a partner who received a new diagnosis can be hard. Make sure that you are getting the support that you need. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has local family support groups for individuals who are caring for someone with a mental health concern. The groups are free and are open to the public.” – Jackie Darby, Psy.D., CGP
Let Go of What You Can’t Control
“While finding ways to support your partner is valuable, it is important to keep in mind that it is not your responsibility to manage or fix their depression and ultimately, they still need to be accountable for themselves. Depressed people can’t always help that they feel depressed, but they can, and should, be accountable for managing their symptoms and actively doing things to keep themselves healthy and balanced.” – Hailey Shafir, LCMHCS, LPCS, LCAS, CCS
Find a Therapist
If you’re dating someone with depression and are worried about how to support them or how to take care of yourself, it’s probably time to meet with a therapist. Start your search in an online directory where you can narrow your search by cost, location, and expertise.
Is It OK to Break Up With Someone With Depression?
It can be very hard to be in a relationship with someone who struggles with depression. We all have our individual tolerances. Simply someone having depression can be enough of a reason for someone to leave, but it’s really important to understand depression and make an informed decision for yourself.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering breaking up with someone because they’re depressed:
- Is their depression something that is impacting you?
- Is it triggering you?
- What are your views on mental health and depression?
- Do you think you can find a way to work through it?
- Are they taking steps to manage their depression?
- Do you feel like you are the emotional caretaker?
There will be times in all relationships where it may feel imbalanced from time to time, and learning to be flexible during those times is important. At the end of the day, someone with depression may be doing everything they can to work on themselves and you may be doing everything you can to try to make it all work, but it can still be hard to stay in that relationship.
It’s important to consider talking to a couples therapist to sort through this, but if choosing to end the relationship is what is best for you, you need to also make sure you are taking care of yourself. These decisions are never easy, so a professional can help you figure out all your feelings, needs, and expectations and give you and your partner a space to come to a decision together. At the very least, it can help you feel heard if you’re struggling, as depression in relationships can certainly pose additional challenges.
Final Thoughts on Dating Someone With Depression
Dating someone with depression can be challenging, but there are ways to obtain support and guidance. Overall, it is important to find a balance with providing support and care while maintaining appropriate boundaries, taking care of oneself, and feeling fulfilled in the relationship. Additional support from friends and family and/or professional services such as individual or couples counseling may be necessary as well.