Depression and Relationships

What Is Depression?

Depression is an illness that causes a person to feel long episodes of sadness. These feelings affect every part of a person’s life — including their romantic relationships. Stanford Medicine estimates that 9 million Americans suffer from clinical depression.

Depression can happen:

  • seasonally
  • after giving birth
  • as part of another condition (like bipolar disorder)

How Is Depression Classified?

Depression is classified as mild, moderate, or severe.

Mild Depression

Mild depression often goes undiagnosed. You may have depression symptoms such as less enjoyment in activities you once enjoyed, or frequent irritability. However, in many cases you might be able to continue with your daily activities with almost no interruption.

Moderate Depression

Symptoms of moderate depression are often more noticeable. In mild depression you may have experienced less enjoyment in your favorite activities. Now, you may not experience any enjoyment. You may neglect your daily activities, or you may stop doing them altogether.

Severe Depression

In this stage of depression, daily activities might feel like they are impossible to do. You are probably not completing your work responsibilities, or participating in social activities. You may also experience most, if not all, symptoms of depression.

Make an appointment with your primary care provider if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. Depression is very treatable.

How Is Depression Diagnosed?

You must consistently experience five of the following nine symptoms to be diagnosed with depression:

  • depressed mood most of the day
  • disinterest or lack of enjoyment in activities you once enjoyed
  • difficulty sleeping, such as sleeping too much or too little
  • weight loss or gain due to appetite changes
  • feeling restless or lethargic
  • feeling tired and without energy
  • experiencing feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • having difficulty thinking clearly and/or making decisions
  • experiencing frequent thoughts about death or suicide, attempting suicide, or formulating a plan to end one’s life

Seeing a partner struggle with depression can make you feel helpless, hurt, alienated, and sad. Depression can even have negative affects on very strong relationships. Starting a conversation about depression can be difficult, but there are ways you can help your partner manage their depression.

Research on Depression and Relationships

Many studies have been done on the effect of depression in relationships.

Relationship Quality and Depression

A 2014 study asked 126 couples to fill out surveys. The couples reported any feelings of uncertainty about the relationship’s future or their stability as a couple. The researchers found that couples didn’t communicate well if at least one person was depressed. They were also less likely to:

  • resolve conflicts
  • discuss disappointments
  • ask about their partner’s feelings

Another study found that people who were in a poor quality relationship were more likely to experience depression. Factors that affected a relationship’s quality included the level of personal support, such as:

  • how often a person felt let down by a partner
  • a partner making excessive demands
  • an overly critical partner

The researchers estimated that 1 in 7 adults who were in relationships that weren’t healthy were very likely to become depressed.

Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a condition that occurs after a new mom gives birth. Postpartum depression is much more than the “baby blues.” It can affect a mother’s bond with her baby and partner.

A review studied the effects of postpartum depression on the new mom’s partner. The review found that women aren’t the only ones who experience postpartum depression. Partners of depressed mothers often develop postpartum depression as well. The review also found that postpartum depression can weaken the couple’s relationship, but getting professional help can make it better.

Tips for How to Help a Depressed Significant Other

Living with depression not only creates feelings of sadness in your partner, but also fear and uncertainty. You can help your partner struggling with depression by providing reassurance and a sense of security. Steps to accomplish this include:

  • making every effort to keep promises to your significant other, proving that they can count on you
  • reassure your partner that you are committed to them, regardless of your or their depression
  • listen to your partner’s feelings and offer encouragement whenever possible

Emphasize that you will support your partner should they choose to seek professional help.

Studies have shown that couples therapy is effective in treating mild to moderate depression. Couples therapy involves seeing a mental health expert, such as a psychiatric professional, or counselor. Topics discussed include how the couple can reduce negative interactions and promote healthy relationship behaviors.

In addition to the support you offer, medications are helpful in treating depression. According to Stanford Medicine, antidepressants help 60 to 80 percent of people who struggle with depression. Medication isn’t for everyone, but it may be able to help your partner feel better.

Signs Your Partner Needs Professional Help

It’s often hard for a partner struggling with depression to admit that they need professional help. However, there are some symptoms you shouldn’t ignore that indicate your partner may need professional or even emergency help.

Call 911 if your partner talks about hurting themselves or committing suicide. Talks of suicide should never be ignored.

Other signs your partner should seek professional help include:

  • when their symptoms last longer than six to eight weeks
  • when they are taking new medications and don’t get better within two months
  • when they experience significant fatigue, weight loss/gain, or withdraw from social support

You may need to help your partner by going along to an appointment. Even if your partner doesn’t want to seek help right away, continue to encourage them. They may eventually feel comfortable enough to get help.

Conclusions on Depression and Relationships

Depression is hard on both you and your partner. It’s often caused by chemical imbalances in the brain that your partner doesn’t have any control over. It’s important to remember that depression is a very treatable condition. Treatment combined with your support and encouragement can make a big difference in helping your partner feel safe and secure.

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