Everyone struggles with bouts of sadness from time to time. A challenging life event can result in a somber mood for some time, although slowly but surely we rebound. When the sadness persists for more than two weeks, combined with hopelessness, despair and various other symptoms, this could be a sign of Major Depressive Disorder.
Depression is the second most common mental health disorder among U.S. adults, affecting 17.3 million of us each year. Depression can impact all aspects of our lives, including our relationships. The symptoms associated with depression make it difficult to connect emotionally or to spend time with others.
What is Depression?
Depression is a complex mental health disorder, and, to date, its cause remains a scientific mystery. There are some known risk factors, however, that may contribute to depression, including:
- Family history of depression
- Brain chemistry imbalance
- Distressing life events, such as the unexpected death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss
- Medical conditions, such as diabetes, MS, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease
- Medications that have depressive side effects
Doctors diagnose Major Depressive Disorder when at least five of the following symptoms are present for more than two weeks:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or despair
- Changes in eating habits, resulting in sudden weight loss or gain
- Changes in sleep habits; hypersomnia or insomnia
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Slowed cognitive functions
- Irrational feelings of shame or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of suicide or suicidal ideation
Depression in Relationships
If you have ever gone through a depressive episode, you can attest to the many ways it can affect your relationships. When you are depressed, you have little motivation to nurture your relationship with a spouse or partner. Here are some of the ways that depression can impact relationships:
- Negative Attitude. When you’re feeling depressed, you may see everything through the prism of negativity. You may find it hard to appreciate people in your life and find flaws where they don’t exist. Or, your negative attitude may cause you to consider yourself unworthy of being loved.
- More Irritable. When you are feeling unhappy, you might be less patient or tolerant of the other person’s perceived flaws. Things that didn’t bother you before may now cause you to feel annoyed and irritated, even leading to more fighting between you.
- Lower Energy. It’s hard for a partner to understand why you are not up to going out, or interested in participating in an activity that you usually enjoy. When depressed, you just feel more fatigued.
- Emotionally Unavailable. To remain healthy, relationships take effort. This includes being present and emotionally engaged with the other person. When going through a depressive episode, you may not be willing to give the relationship the usual effort.
- Reduced Libido. Depression can reduce your sexual desire, which is difficult for the partner to understand. They may take your lack of libido personally and end up feeling rejected.
- Increased Substance Use. Sometimes, those with depression turn to substance use to numb the effects of their depression. If the substance use escalates, its effects can wreak havoc on a relationship. In addition, misusing a substance increases the risk of developing a comorbid Substance Use Disorder, which can be devastating to relationships.
If you or a loved one is experiencing the signs of depression, there is help available. Start by seeing a doctor for a physical exam to rule out a medical condition. If none is detected, the doctor can refer you to a mental health provider for professional guidance and support.