My boyfriend/girlfriend has depression

Dating someone with depression can be really tough. The Mix finds out how to cope – from your boyfriend going off sex, to your girlfriend not wanting to leave the house.

two hearts by rainy window

Love can still flourish in the darkest of times.

Helping your partner with depression

How can you help your partner and yourself? Try following these steps.

Be understanding: If you’ve got depression, doing the simplest of things – getting dressed, brushing your teeth – can take a humungous effort.

Remember it’s an illness: Clinical depression isn’t the same as feeling a bit sad. It’s a seriously debilitating mental health condition.

Encourage self-care: Suggest they put together some treats in a box – favourite snacks, DVDs, magazines – for the next time things get really tough.

Be patient: Recovering from depression is hard work and can take a while. If they could get better faster, they would.

Don’t be dismissive: People don’t choose to have depression, so there’s no point telling them to cheer up, or saying they’ve got nothing to be unhappy about.

Coping with their bouts of depression

If depression has got its claws into your partner you might be torn about whether to offer help, or just leave them to it. Don’t wait for them to tell you what they need. They probably won’t ask for it, as depression is very good at convincing people they’re worthless and they shouldn’t reach out.

The best thing you can do is just let them know you care and keep checking in with them. Something as simple as a text message saying: “I’m thinking of you,” can make a huge difference.

What if they mention suicide?

It can be very scary if your boyfriend or girlfriend says they’re feeling suicidal. Don’t assume they’re making it up for attention, or saying it to try and hurt you.

When people say they’re suicidal it usually means they’re in a lot of emotional pain and they want it to stop. Encourage them to call Samaritans and to visit their GP. If you’re really worried, think about calling the emergency services.

They never want to do anything

It can get very boring if your partner never wants to leave the house; it’s probably pretty miserable for them, too.

“Dating or living with someone who has depression can be very lonely and very hard,” says Emer O’Neill, CEO of Depression Alliance. “Connecting with other people, avoiding loneliness and keeping active is really important.”

“Acknowledge your frustration and anger, but take it elsewhere,” she adds. “There’s no point expecting the response that you need or want from the person who’s got the condition.”

It’s OK to tell your partner if you’re finding things tough, but make sure you separate the illness from the person. You’re dating them, not their depression, however it may sometimes feel.

Depression can actually have positive effects in the long-term. “It’s a horrendous condition that wipes you out and takes you down, but if you’ve been through depression you’ll probably have an honesty and integrity that people who are charging through life very often don’t have,” says Emer.

My boyfriend/girlfriend won’t have sex with me

“If your partner has depression you can end up feeling very unwanted and very unloved,” says Emer. It can be ego-crushing if they don’t seem to fancy you any more, but try to remember that it really isn’t personal.

Depression often affects bodily functions, like sex and sleep. Loss of libido, erection problems and difficulties reaching orgasm are also common side effects of many antidepressants.

You can encourage your boyfriend or girlfriend to see their GP and try to keep doing tactile things like holding hands and hugging, but don’t pressurise or guilt-trip them into having sex. If they’re not up for it, there’s always masturbation.

Can’t they just snap out of it?

It’s totally understandable that you feel frustrated. Depression is a debilitating condition and it’s probably really hard seeing how it affects your partner. But depression is an illness and you can’t just decide to get better – it’s not possible to just snap out of it, even if you want to.

“Nobody wants to have depression,” says Emer. “Recovery does happen, but it’s really hard work and it usually takes both medical and non-medical support.”

“Have some awareness yourself so you can get your own head around what’s happened,” she suggests. Mind, Depression Alliance and the Royal College of Psychiatrists are all good places to find information.

What if they won’t get help?

You can’t force your boyfriend or girlfriend to get better, but you can encourage them. Remind them that GPs see loads of people with depression and there’s no shame in asking for help.

You might have to be patient, as depression can convince people they’ve got no chance of getting better and some people find it very hard to seek help. “It can be a long, slow journey,” says Emer. “Have some information ready in case they do decide to get help. They might need to read it 100 times before it sinks in.”

Photo of hearts by volunteer photographer Jeff Arris.

Next Steps

  • Papyrus supports young people who are feeling suicidal - you can call, email or text them. Call on 0800 068 41 41.
  • SANE offer support and information to people affected by mental illness. 0300 304 7000
  • Do you want to understand your relationship better? Love Smart helps you work it all out.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Anne Wollenberg

Updated on 29-Sep-2015