Living with depression makes basically every aspect of life so much harder than it should be, including romantic relationships. If you’ve ever experienced depression’s hallmark symptoms (like feelings of hopelessness and emptiness, decreased energy, and a loss of pleasure in activities you used to enjoy), you know they don't exactly seem conducive to a fun, open, and carefree relationship.
But being able to share your depression with your partner—and having them act as your rock when you’re struggling—is incredibly healthy, romantic, and completely worth the fear that might come with discussing your mental health.
Talking about your depression means you’re being authentic about something that can have a huge effect on both of your lives. “If you feel like they are a good candidate for the long-term, you feel you can get very close to them, and they're someone you could potentially love, then you should tell them,” Michael Brustein, Psy.D., clinical psychologist in New York City, tells SELF.
Plus, letting your partner understand what you’re going through is the only way they’ll be able to fully support you. “One of the by-products of depression is isolation," Ryan Howes, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California, tells SELF. "And that can cause the dark and negative thoughts that often accompany depression to amplify. You need support to lend a different perspective, help you see hope and possibility, and know that others love and care about you.”
That said, this can be a really intimidating conversation to have. Here's what Brustein and Howes recommend for navigating it.
First, remember that depression is incredibly common.
Around 16.2 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2016, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. (This means they experienced at least five symptoms of depression for a period of two weeks or longer.) Although having depression is nothing to be ashamed of, the instinct to hide it is understandable. For so many people, depression can also be a source of overwhelming shame, leading far too many to live in secrecy.
“The unfortunate reality is that even in 2018 we still have a stigma against mental illness,” says Howes. “While having depression is no more the fault of the individual than an allergy or multiple sclerosis, people avoid talking about it because they don’t want to be blamed for feeling bad.”
The thing is, depression is so common that there's a good chance your partner knows someone else who has gone through this at some point—or maybe they've even dealt with it before. Keep that in mind when it feels like you're about to drop a terrifying truth on them. Chances are they won't react with shock and confusion.