How should I tell my partner about depression?

Depression can affect your relationship and your relationship can also have an effect on the way you manage your depression. Strong and healthy relationships have the potential to help cope with the symptoms of depression.

Ritika Dhaliwal

1 in 6 people in India live with depression. Going through depression can affect your relationship and this in turn can  have an effect on the way you manage the depression. Strong and healthy relationships have the potential to help cope with the symptoms of depression. On the other hand, it can make it difficult to maintain supportive and fulfilling relationships. These are some of the questions you might have as a partner, or prospective partner with depression:

Q. How do I tell my partner that I have depression?

A. Telling your partner that you have depression might seem like a difficult task but the more honest and direct you can be, the better it is. You might be sharing this with them at a stage where you feel that something is going on with you and you’d like their help, or, you might be talking when you’re sure something is wrong and you need them to figure this out with you. With depression the change can be quite marked making it likely that your partner would have noticed that something is amiss. It will be reassuring for them to have an idea about what comes next sit with them and talk about how you can seek the help you need and what this might involve. It is helpful to remember that these bits of information might have to be shared multiple number of times with your partner for them to register it.   

Q. I have chronic depression and I feel scared to get into a relationship. What should I do?

A. Relationships can be scary for many people, even if they are not living with depression. It’s important to recognise that it’s possible for anyone to be in a healthy relationship. If you happen to meet a person  who can be there for you in ways that you need and the other way around, the fact that you have depression will not make a difference. Managing and coping with your mental health issues will still be challenging but this doesn’t make you any less worthy of being in a good relationship. Being there for each other involves work and depression can make this hard, but, with self-awareness, mutual understanding and support building a healthy space is possible. 

Q. How do I maintain an on-going relationship without pulling my partner my down?

A. As someone  with depression, you might not always have complete control over your emotions. It will be helpful to try and keep communication open with your partner and let them know what’s going on. Saying things like  “I’m not angry with you, I’m just low today”, “I’m in a bad mood right now and need some time, I’ll get back to you”, “Feeling low at the moment but it’s nothing you said”  will allow your partner to give you the space you need while not blaming themselves for how you feel. The clearer you are with your partner in communicating your needs the better it is; don’t expect them to understand everything you’re going through. This is a difficult experience for your partner as well and having more than one conversation about the same topic may be required at times. It’s important to take steps to manage your depression at your own pace, but if it appears to your partner that you seem to be doing nothing about it this can be frustrating to them. Communicating to them where you are in your journey is relevant at such a point.

Q. I want to end my relationship because of my depression. What should I do?

A. A decision like this needs to be talked through and be a mutual one between you and your partner. Feeling hopeless about the relationship and the future is a part of depression. You’re more likely to have a negative view of the relationship at this time. It would be better to not make a lasting decision in the middle of a depressive episode. Afterwards, when you’re feeling relatively better, if the both of you feel that the relationship will not work then a decision can be made mutually. It matters that your partner gets to have a say in this - How do they feel about the situation? What do they want at this point? It’s also possible that your partner is able to see that the current challenges are temporary, that things will get better after some time because they have a relatively more objective view of what’s going on.

Dr Rathna Isaac says, “Neither depression nor any other issue disqualify you from being in a relationship. A healthy and a strong relationship is something that can improve the outcome of depression.” Keeping these words in mind can allow you and your partner to be kinder to each other while coping with the challenges that your depression brings in the way of your relationship.

Written with valuable inputs from Dr. Rathna Isaac, Clinical psychologist.

White Swan Foundation