How Depression Can Affect Relationships
If you’re struggling with the symptoms of depression, it can be easy to turn your focus inward. And, in fact, a lot of caring for your mental health includes self-reflection. But it can be easy to miss how depression affects relationships with those around you. If you find yourself pulling away from or losing touch with loved ones and family members, you’re not alone. Here’s how to recognize how depression or even a depressive episode can affect your relationships.
Recognizing depression and depressive episodes
The first major step is recognizing when you’re going through a particularly rough time. If you haven’t already talked to a mental health professional, you may want to schedule an appointment with a therapy or psychiatry professional.
Because depression and anxiety are often completely internal, they may be more difficult to recognize than a physical health issue, like the flu or a sprain. To take care of your mental well-being, check in with yourself. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Has there been a loss of interest in what used to be your favorite activities, or in keeping up with friends and family members? Do you often feel sad, empty, or hopeless? Do you think of yourself with a feeling of worthlessness or low self-esteem?
A depressed person may struggle with fluctuating feelings, such as sudden angry outbursts or feeling ready to cry over relatively minor inconveniences. Unexplained negative feelings can range from frustration and irritation to apathy and “brain fog.” You may also have physical symptoms, such as oversleeping, insomnia, fatigue, a lowered sex drive, or changes in appetite. If you notice a decline in your mental health, it may be time to talk to a mental healthcare professional.
Depression also often comes hand-in-hand with other mental illnesses. If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, BPD, OCD, and/or some other mental health issues, you may also have depression. Depression can also come on as a side effect of a new medication. If you experience a decline in your general mood after starting a new medication, seek medical advice from your doctor.
If, at any point, you experience suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline helpline at 800-273-8255 for immediate support. They are available 24/7.
How depression affects relationships
Depression often has a negative impact on more than just your personal life. Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, can stay with you for a long time. It can affect your physical health, hygiene routines, professional life, and personal relationships.
Depression often includes a loss of interest, feelings of worthlessness, and low-energy or fatigued feelings. That often makes maintaining a friendship or romantic relationship the last thing on your mind. But the support of a friend or loved one can make all the difference.
Many depressed people shut themselves off from loved ones. People already struggling with fatigue and loss of interest often don’t have the energy to communicate or socialize as they would normally. If depression causes anger or irritability, you may push away close friends or relationships. A feeling of shame for not being a good friend/partner/etc can lead to a vicious cycle of guilt over not staying in contact and not staying in contact because of how you’ve been acting, then feeling even worse. If no one is paying attention, it can be easy for things to break down.
How depression affects your loved ones
On the other hand, depression can have a big impact on the people in your life. If your partner, friend, or family member is struggling with a mental illness of their own, it can be doubly hard for both of you to put work into your relationship. Friends who care about your health and wellness may feel worried or stressed, especially if they’re unsure to help.
Though depression can make it excessively easy to cut people off, knowing that it’s the side effect of a mental illness may not curb the hurt people in your life feel from being cut off. If no one knows depression is the cause, people may feel hurt at what they see as a sudden, unexplained change in the relationship. People who do know your struggles may still feel guilty for not knowing what to do, or even feeling like they caused your depression.
In a sexual relationship, the loss of sex drive may cause confusion or hurt with a partner. They may feel that something’s wrong with them. Partners may struggle with intimacy, both physical and emotional.
Depression can also affect families. Parents struggling with depression may struggle to bond with their children. If a child in your family has depression, that can lead to lots of stress and worry over their health and school performance.
Recognizing when your health issues affect your relationships
If you already know you have depression or are showing symptoms of depression, you need to find a way to recognize how your depression is affecting your relationships. If you’re used to calling or texting certain people, you can use your phone’s records to note if you haven’t been reaching out as often as normal.
Check in with yourself. Have you skipped a large number of social events recently? When’s the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a loved one? If you live with others, how often do you interact with them versus isolating yourself?
If you struggle with remembering or with checking in with yourself, there are plenty of ways to use outside sources to recognize what’s happening. Talk to a friend or family member you trust and ask how you’ve seemed lately. If you already talk to a therapist, go over your recent behavior with them. If you don’t, we have plenty of mental health clinicians that you can start talking to.
How to maintain healthy relationships while depressed
The first step you should take is talking to a mental health professional. You can discuss depression treatment and a psychiatrist can prescribe antidepressants if necessary. Together, you can create a treatment plan that will work for your circumstances. If your depression is deeply affecting your relationships, you may try family or couples therapy. Having a dedicated space for healthy communication may help you.
Communication is the key to any healthy relationship. When you have major depression, communication just gets that much harder. When possible, find someone to hold you accountable. If you have a friend that’s comfortable reaching out first, you may find it easier to respond to a message rather than initiate conversation.
Going to a regularly-scheduled event can help create a routine of socialization and make it harder to back out. If possible, choose something with a friend or loved one who will go along. A support group can also help offer a safe space for socialization.
Learning more about depression and what triggers depressive episodes is a good idea for both you and the people close to you. A deeper understanding helps alleviate guilt and work through setbacks. Your therapist can recommend resources for getting started.
Don’t forget, you also have a goal of self-care and healthy boundaries. You don’t need to jump right into the same level of socialization you used to have pre-depression. Take small steps, have a safe space to rest in, and take breaks if you feel overwhelmed. Mental illness is an illness, and your wellbeing is the focus of your healing. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, even if what you need is space, an ear to listen, or just quiet time together without talking.