Miss Lonely Hearts,
I have been in a loving relationship for three years and we have lived together for two. I have known about my clinical depression since I was three years old. Now my lover has started experiencing intense symptoms of depression and I believe we contribute to each other's mental health issues just by existing, listening, and commiserating because both of us are incredibly empathetic. I don't want to leave him because of this, but I can't see the way we are currently living as healthy. He is my inspiration and he has helped me fight a lot of my darkness, I want to be able to help him in the same ways. So the question I pose is this: how can two depressed cuties live together without remaining an echo chamber of misery? How can we break this cycle?
Dear Empathetic Emily,
Yes. Depression can be contagious (and don’t just take my word for it—I consulted an actual psychologist on this one), and it sounds like you and your partner are dragging each other down. The good news? Depression is also treatable.
You say you have known about your depression since you were three—but are you getting help with it? Is your significant other? Neither one of you has to stay depressed. To risk sounding like a health and wellness brochure, I recommend that before you write off the relationship, you both see a mental health professional for help with your depression (if talking to a psychologist is out of your price range or ability, the HCC offers scheduled counseling sessions and walk-in visits from 3:00–4:00 p.m. Monday–Friday). You can help your partner, and yourself, by letting him know you understand how bad depression can be—it always helps to know you’re not alone in what you’re feeling, even if it sounds trite—but also by making clear you can’t be his therapist (and vice versa). And as he has inspired you, maybe you can inspire him to get help so you two cuties can live more happily, be it together or separate.
Your depression doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but if you and your partner continue living in “an echo chamber of misery” (you wordsmith, you!), it might be. The best thing you can do for him, the best thing you can do for your relationship, and the best thing you can do for yourself is get help with your depression. Now, I’ll be blunt with you: fighting your darkness might be a tough battle, and it might not be quick, so if you and your partner do seek help and still experience intense symptoms of depression, it might be better for both of you to take a break from your relationship for a period of time, no matter how much you love each other. Misery loves company, and staying in this relationship may hinder you from treating your depression. But, who knows? Maybe you can both be the support system the other needs while you’re working on yourselves. Only time will tell.
And, Empathetic Emily? If your mutual depression is the only thing dragging your relationship down, I fully believe you and your fellow depressed cutie can make it through and come out on the other side in an even stronger, and happier, relationship.
Miss Lonely Hearts
Cover photo: two students dressed in formal attire. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.