Dating someone struggling with depression might be a taboo topic in some social circles. It’s not a common conversation, and you may not know if one of your friends is dating someone who struggles with mental illness. Even when the subject is broached, people might be walking on eggshells to skirt around the sensitive subject matter or unknowingly say things that feel offensive.
A note on person-first language
The first thing to mention in regards to dating someone who is challenged with depression is to remember person-first language. Person-first language means we name the person before we name the diagnosis. Additionally, identifying the struggle with mental illness rather than just the diagnosis grants the individual some agency in the experience, rather than making him sound like a victim of depression. For example, instead of saying “she is dating a depressed person” or “she is dating someone with depression and anxiety,” a more appropriate statement would be “she is dating someone who struggles with depression.”
It will be helpful to explain person-first language when you share your dating experiences. Acknowledge that person-first language is a habit that takes time to learn, so mistakes will be forgiven, but it’s important to show respect.
In addition to person-first language, there will be other new expectations if one of you is struggling with mental illness. Here are 5 tips to help if you find yourself dating a man or woman challenged by depression.
1. Relax, it’s ok
Take a deep breath and soak this in: your relationship is not devalued because of mental illness. The person you care for still has all of those traits you admire, and even have more under the surface that come with a struggle against mental illness (like resilience).
Just like each factor in your relationship brings obstacles, everything you bring to the relationship also has the potential for meaningful bonding and achievement. A significant other showing improvement in therapy and reaching milestones in reducing anxiety is cause for celebration that some couples don’t experience.
2. Keep communication open
A revelation of mental illness can be a shocking thing to hear, whether it comes on the first date or years into a relationship. Often we can’t control our initial reaction, but we can control how the situation unfolds. Express your desire to discuss the topic more, even if you don’t have the right words at that moment.
Having someone share about his or her difficulties is a sign of trust and an appeal for your support. You’ve likely already proven your loyalty and affection to this person, and you probably won’t have to change anything about your day-to-day interactions. The main difference is that you’re now aware of the depression, and conversations can remain more open.
Honesty is important, but keep in mind the information you share and the individuals you share it with. You might need some support if the mental illness is taking a toll on your relationship, but keep in mind that the information you are sharing could be personal.
3. Invest some extra time
A struggle with mental illness comes with a load of difficulties and responsibilities that are hard to face alone. If the person you are dating has opened up about his or her struggle with depression, a great way to show you care is by sharing in that responsibility.
Here are some practical ways to participate in supporting your significant other:
- Encourage your loved one to seek therapy or counseling services. Help the person research relevant services.
- If therapy has already started, save appointments in your phone or on a calendar and check in before or after the session.
- Ensure your significant other has transportation to appointments and is able to pick up medication, if applicable.
- If your partner is prescribed drugs for treatment, check in regularly to make sure the medication is being taken in the right dosage and at the correct frequency.
- Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in your phone and encourage others to do the same. The number is (800) 273-8255 and representatives are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
4. Don’t try to “fix” your significant other
Learning that your loved one struggles with depression or anxiety will make you want to offer help. The kind of help we give and how we offer it is really going to make a difference. If we’re not thoughtful about the advice and intervention we offer, we could even harm the person.
When you approach helping anyone who struggles with mental illness, remember that it is not your job to “fix” anyone. The person you are dating is not a problem to be remedied, but a soul to be loved and seen. Even if you have experience and education in mental health, you haven’t been recruited as a therapist in this relationship. Focus on being a good listener rather than offering advice.
5. Learn the signs and symptoms of depression
Just as you would learn the signs of low blood sugar if your partner had diabetes, you’ll want to learn about the symptoms of depression so you can keep tabs on when and if the depression is taking a turn for the worse. Mayo Clinic outlines the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder; whether or not your partner has a formal diagnosis, check their list of symptoms to watch for, and take note when there are major shifts. If you notice signs of increasing depression, talk to someone who knows your loved one and decide on a course of action. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help with this if you’re looking for direction.
Dating a person who struggles with anxiety and depression can be a major challenge. There are extra difficulties in relationships when mental illness is present, but nothing that can’t be overcome with the right treatment and support. Support your dating partner by suggesting Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare for appropriate mental health help, or call (678) 274-4936 to set up an appointment today.