Dating a Depressed Person

You've probably seen it happen-a friend's bright smile and sense of humor start to fade. It's hard enough to watch a pal battle depression, but what about when the person who's down in the dumps is your date? More than 19 million Americans struggle with depression, and studies by the American Psychological Association indicate that the gay community has higher rates of depression than heterosexuals. Many researchers believe this is because of the stresses and social pressures associated with being gay.

Jamie Divine has not only dated many men who've been depressed, but battled the problem himself. "Before I came out, I felt like there was something wrong with me and that I'd never be happy," he says. "I learned that some people live for years thinking they're not worth being loved, even after they come out." If this issue resonates with you, here's advice on what to do if your sweetie is grappling with depression.

Listen and learn
So what is the difference between a partner's temporary slump and something more serious? "We all have low points from time to time, but a major depression goes beyond a sad mood," explains psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, M.D. "Other symptoms are eating or sleeping too much or too little, a loss of pleasure in life, feelings of worthlessness, and poor concentration." Clinical depression is a serious illness, but it's treatable and doesn't mean that a potentially great relationship is doomed. "It is absolutely possible for two people to have a relationship when one of them lives with depression," says Heather Cobb, spokesperson for the National Mental Health Association (NMHA). "Most people who seek treatment do get better."

So let's say your date tells you that he or she is feeling really down in the dumps or otherwise has the symptoms of depression. You may not know how to react to this admission at first, but Lieberman suggests being as supportive as possible and asking lots of questions. "Find out what your date really means. Ask questions like, -How long have you felt this way?' or -Have you thought about getting professional help?'" she says. Even if your partner isn't immediately comfortable answering questions, it will show them that you're interested and taking their concerns seriously.

Reacting in a calm and supportive way is also important. Cobb recommends letting your date know that you're not freaked out or repelled by this news. An affectionate touch and a few reassuring words can mean a lot to someone who may be worried that an already tough situation will also mean the end of a burgeoning relationship.

Encourage your date to get help
Take a date's depression seriously (don't say, "Ah, you'll get over it") but not personally. Educating yourself about symptoms of depression will help you understand the fluctuating moods and energy levels that have probably already started to seep into your plans. "The number one thing people do wrong when in a relationship with a depressed person is to blame themselves and not insist that his or her friend get help," says Lieberman.

According to the NMHA, more than 80 percent of all cases of clinical depression can be treated effectively. Whether your sweetie is in treatment already or just considering it, rest assured they're not "damaged goods." Lieberman says that getting help is a sign that they not only value their health but also your relationship.

Be yourself
Everyday problems like a bad day at work or feeling under the weather can seem trivial when compared to dealing with a serious issue like depression. Often, partners of depressed people put their own problems on the back burner, not wanting to add an extra burden. But keeping your feelings under wraps will ultimately prevent your relationship from truly developing because it becomes one-sided. "When I was in a serious relationship with someone who was depressed, I basically stopped dealing with my own stuff to deal with his," admits Jamie Divine. "At the time, I thought I was being a good boyfriend, but I wound up neglecting myself." Although it may seem like your partner's problems outweigh your own, Cobb says it's crucial to talk about your stuff, too.

The same goes with plans or conversations that may seem frivolous-don't hide them out of fear of seeming inconsiderate. Being true to what you want to do and talk about helps you not center your whole relationship on the person's depression. Your honey may not be up for every outing you suggest, but just making that normalcy available can do wonders for your friend's frame of mind. And since regular exercise and having supportive listeners can be small steps toward feeling better, you may want to plan dates that let you engage in these healthy habits.

Give it time
Even after taking action, depression can take a long time and several attempts to work through. Cobb says that although depression creates new challenges in a relationship, you should still ultimately enjoy being with the person. If you don't, it may be the relationship that's not working, not the person's treatment. Like any other relationship, if you can't work through your problems, it's better to part ways. "Staying in an unfulfilling relationship will not help a person with depression feel better," says Cobb. "It's best to be honest, even when it may be time to call it quits."

For more information on depression, visit NMHA at nmha.org or 800-969-6642.

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