When you date a man with depression, it can become a struggle to maintain a relationship with him and protect your own mental health. The experience is not fundamentally different than dating someone without a mental illness, but there are issues that are more likely to arise.
By understanding these issues and knowing how to respond, you can support the man you love without threatening the relationship or your emotional wellbeing.
Note: We discuss the following insights in the context of dating men, but they apply equally to women. Scroll further down to read about behaviors and situations you are more likely to encounter with men only. Also, realize you are not guaranteed to encounter these issues when you date someone with depression. Depression simply increases their likelihood. We also wrote an article about issues you are more likely to encounter with women only.
The Depression Coming Out Conversation
Whether you ask or deduce it after months of dating, there will be a point when your partner discloses they deal with depression. It’s a crucial moment in the relationship, so be sensitive and do not judge. Thank him for trusting you with this information he has most likely not shared with many people. See it as the beginning of a discussion you can resurface occasionally.
Soon after that, I met Dan (not his real name) online. I found him incredibly attractive, funny, and engaging. I thought he was perfect for me, and we transitioned from dating to a relationship with no panic attacks. Sleeping over or meeting his friends would have previously led to extreme anxiety, but it felt, for the first time in my life, easy. In fact, I was even comfortable enough to tell him about my anxiety and medication. To his credit, he was incredibly supportive. I thought I had found a magical solution to all of my problems.
As the weeks progressed, though, I started to realize things just didn’t feel right. While my doctor had warned me the medication would likely dampen my sex drive, it wasn’t just my lack of interest in sex that was an issue. The blasé emotional scale I’d initially welcomed dimmed any spark I felt for Dan. And the relationship started to feel the strain.
While Dan would constantly text me sweet notes throughout the day, something I’d normally be giddy over, I’d often forget to even look at my phone or think beyond texting the logistics of our dates. I showed a general lack of enthusiasm for events that Dan would get super excited about, from celebrating Valentine’s Day to meeting his family. I just couldn’t feel or show as much excitement as him, and then had a hard time sympathizing when he got mad that I didn’t. Dan often felt like I didn’t care, and I struggled to explain my feelings because I didn’t understand them myself.
I fell down a Google hole of research trying to figure out what was going on and soon realized it was the meds dulling my emotions.
“It’s like putting a pillow between you and the world,” says Marianne Goodman, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, about taking medications like SSRIs. “It cushions the blows, but it also means you don’t feel the highs in the same way.”
Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, explains further: “If you drive up serotonin activity in the brain, you dampen the dopamine system. The dopamine system is associated with intense feelings of romantic love, so it seems logical knowing this, that under many circumstances as people take a drug that drives up serotonin, it will in some way jeopardize [these feelings].” In one instance, Fisher met a man who started SSRIs midway through a marriage and thought he no longer loved his wife and children. It was only after he stopped the medication that he realized that was not the case.