World Mental Health Day: How Depression Affects Relationships
Living with depression can impact your relationships with loved ones and friends. But there are ways to navigate interacting with others while managing your condition.
Living with depression comes with challenges, including overcoming barriers to nourish and maintain meaningful relationships.
According to a 2015 study, couples indicated that depression negatively influenced their romantic relationships in the following ways:
- emotional toll
- romance and sexual intimacy
- lack of energy/motivation
- dependence on the relationship
- lack of understanding
Also, the study found that participants who reported how depression affected their relationship varied based on their and their partner’s depression status.
What difficulties can depression cause in relationships?
Whether you live with depression or are in a relationship or friendship with someone who has depression, the condition can affect your connection in various ways.
Sarah Salzman, PhD, couples psychologist and founder of Couples Communication Institute, says many symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, low energy, loss of interest in activities, and irritability, make everything harder in a relationship.
“You can quickly feel pushed away from your partner rather than drawn closer together. Relationships take energy and goodwill to maintain well, and that can be hard to come up with when you’re [experiencing episodes of depression],” Salzman tells Psych Central.
When you’re experiencing a depressive episode, it’s common for nothing to seem appealing and lack energy or interest in doing anything with your partner. So when your partner requests something, it may feel like a challenge, burden, or even irritating.
“Sexual interest sometimes disappears as well. You might want to withdraw into yourself and not share with your partner what’s going on. Sometimes, you might feel worthless or guilty for how you’re feeling, which makes asking for help challenging,” says Salzman.
During depressive episodes, you may be far less interested in spending time with friends and loved ones and have a harder time engaging at work.
“You may feel like turning down invitations and pulling away from the people you care about… Activities that might have interested you before often just don’t sound appealing anymore, or the effort it would take to participate feels like it would take more energy than you can summon up,” Salzman explains.
Tips on minimising negative effects of depression on relationships
While it’s not easy, the following ways can have a positive effect on your relationships.
Understand your depression
Salzman says depression is a symptom of many kinds of imbalances.
“It’s like a red warning light on your own personal dashboard — time to figure out what the warning is trying to tell you,” she says.
Salzman suggests looking into:
quality of food
the impact of head or spine injuries
infections that may be affecting you, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, or mold
“Antidepressant medication shouldn’t be the first choice until you’ve worked on figuring out what knocked you out of balance to begin with,” she says.
Open up to your partner
Share details about your mental health with your partner.
“You’re going to have to quit the conversation going on in your head — part of you will be saying that you don’t want to burden your partner or you feel too embarrassed. Give permission to the other part of you that loves and values your partner and your relationship, and talk to your partner,” says Salzman.
She suggests choosing the time of day your energy is the best, and let your partner know you need them to listen as you share what’s going on.
Ask for what you need
Asking your partner for help can keep you close.
“Far from being a burden, most partners are grateful to be able to help their loved one,” says Salzman.
While your partner may offer some suggestions, you might be tempted to turn them all down. However, telling them the suggestions that seem most possible for you is a good way to keep communication lines open.
“If a suggestion sounds somewhat appealing, but it also sounds too hard, let your partner know the kind of help you’d need to make it happen,” Salzman says.