Is My Partner Depressed? 9 Early Warning Signs & How To Help
Since you spend so much time together, there's a good chance you'll notice if your partner is depressed. But it can still be tough to catch the earliest warning signs — much less know how to help. And yet, if you both know what to look for, it can mean finding ways to help manage their depression. Or, at the very least, simply offering your partner a little extra love.
If something seems off, "you can mention to your partner that you have noticed these symptoms and ask what is going on," Mollie Volinsky, LCSW, a psychotherapist in NYC, tells Bustle. "It is incredibly helpful to listen and be open and nonjudgmental." While they might not want (or be able) to talk about it right away, knowing that you're aware of what they're going through, and willing to help, can mean a lot.
From there, resist the urge to try to immediately "fix" the problem or smother them with solutions. Instead, "the best thing [you] can do is to be open and patient," Volinsky says. "It is helpful to offer your partner mental health services, but it is even more helpful to be warm and compassionate if they do not feel ready at that time." With that in mind, here are some early warning signs of depression, as well as how to help your partner, if they could use a little support.
1. They Seem Sleepier Than Usual
While it's normal to feel tired after a long day, depression can lead to fatigue that's difficult to shake. As a result, your partner's sleeping schedule and energy levels may change, Volinsky says. They might seem lethargic or need to rest more often, which might even prompt them to call out of work or cancel your evening plans, she says.
But depression can also lead to a lack of sleep. If your partner is lying awake all night, or if their energy levels have drastically changed in other ways, bring it up in a caring way. If your partner needs help, you can discuss where they'd be willing to start.
2. They Don't Feel Like Doing Anything
It's fine to take a break every now and again, especially if life has been super busy. So don't jump to conclusions if your partner wants to spend a few weekends at home doing nothing, or if they're going through a lazy phase.
Depression may be at play, though, if they have weird reasons for staying in — and it's become the norm. "They may offer excuses like 'I don't feel like it,' or 'I'm too tired,' or they may even try to pick a fight with you," Volinsky says. "A loss of joy or pleasure is a common symptom with depression. This is often accompanied by constantly feeling blue or sad."
3. They've Dropped All Their Hobbies
Similarly, if your partner used to be into brewing their own beer, or meeting up with friends for a book club, depression could be what's keeping them from getting up, going out, and continue to care about the things they love.
"We all lose interest in a hobby or activity, but if we stop we replace it with something else," Elisa Robyn, PhD, a relationship expert who specializes in life transitions, tells Bustle. "If a person simply stops being engaged with friends or activities, this is a possible sign."
You might notice they're coming directly home from work and going right to bed, or that they've been canceling plans left and right. And if that keeps happening, consider it a red flag.
4. They've Stopped Showering
One of the first signs of depression can be a lack of desire to follow through with basic grooming habits, Robyn says, which is why your partner might not be showering as often, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, shaving, etc.
They might not be able to put much effort into getting dressed, either. "They do not care about their clothing or how they look," Robyn says, and this change can be your clue that they aren't feeling like themselves.
If you think they're depressed, ask them if they'd like to see a counselor. As their partner, you may want to do the legwork to find a therapist, drive them to appointments, and get them the support they need.
5. They Need More Space Than Usual
It's always OK to ask for a little space in a relationship, in order to retain your individuality and maintain a few solo hobbies. But if your partner is depressed, they may act more distant while they are trying to work through the feelings that are going on in their head, Meredith Prescott, LCSW, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist specializing in young adults and couples at Alyson Cohen Therapy, tells Bustle.
"They might need more space than they once did previously," she says. "One might appear short-tempered and become angrier or more irritable."
6. They Seem Forgetful & Inattentive
If it feels like your partner is forgetting things you've said, or that they aren't putting as much effort into your relationship as they once did, it very well could be due to depression.
When that's the case, "it may feel like your partner isn't able to focus on you or like they're in a daze," Volinsky says. "This is because diminished ability to concentrate is a common symptom of depression. Your brain is so preoccupied with managing difficult thoughts and emotions, that it doesn't have the capacity to focus on other things."
7. Their Mood Has Changed
Depression can make someone seem, well, depressed. So be on the lookout for signs your partner is unusually tearful, or if they say they've been down in the dumps, or that they no longer care about anything.
And the same is true if they've become more irritable, Dr. Annie Hsueh, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in couples therapy, tells Bustle. "The change may be sadness [or] tearfulness," she says, "but can also be irritability or 'numbness.'"
8. Their Appetite Has Changed
"People with depression may have either an increase or decrease in appetite," Hsueh says. "Do you observe your partner skipping meals or eating a lot more to cope with their low mood?" Do they no longer want to go out to eat? Or if you make food, do they only take a few bites?
If so, "you can help your partner by talking [...] about how they are feeling," Hsueh says. "If you are concerned that your partner may be depressed, consider helping [them] speak to their primary care physician or help them find a therapist for an evaluation and possible treatment. A relationship is about mutual support and reciprocity."
9. They Don't Feel Like Talking Or Joking
If your partner used to joke around and be quite chatty, don't be surprised if they start to shut down, or become less open to seeing things in a positive light. "They might talk about how scary the world is or how many awful things are happening," Robyn says. "However, many people lose interest in the world around them as they sink into depression."
This situation can be incredibly tough to deal with, for both you and your partner. In order to help, you'll want to make sure you're taking good care of yourself, and seeking support as well. If you can maintain your own well-being, you can certainly play a role in helping your partner get the help they need, in order to manage their depression.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.