In the United States, the leading cause of disability among individuals aged 15 to 44 is major depressive disorder or MDD. Though this disorder affects both genders, it is more prevalent in women than in men. Studies show that an estimated one in every 10 women experiences depression symptoms, with between one in nine and one in five women experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. Because various types of depression can cause different symptoms, some women may not be aware that this disorder is impacting their lives.
Depression is more than simply being upset or feeling sad. Although negative events, like the loss of a loved one or a major life change, can cause an individual to experience significant feelings of sadness and even depressive episodes, depression causes severe symptoms that last for over two weeks which affects the way a person feels, thinks and acts.
Some of these symptoms include:
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Decreased energy
- Loneliness and self-isolation
What many people may not realize is that depression not only impacts the individual suffering, it affects their relationships as well.
How Depression Can Affect Relationships
Like many other serious mental health issues, depression can have a long-reaching impact on every aspect of your life including the relationships you have with family members, friends and romantic partners. Depression can develop at any age and be attributed to genetics, other medical conditions, medications, major life changes or any combination of these factors. Because this disorder can occur and persist throughout life's many stages, the varied symptoms of depression have the potential to impact all types of relationships — even relationships that are inherently healthy, supportive and positive.
Living with depression is difficult for many individuals, regardless of their age, occupation or status in society. Although some of these individuals may be required to interact with others throughout their daily tasks, they can still feel alone even when they are surrounded by people. Social isolation occurs when an individual has a lack of meaningful social interactions with others. For instance, if you work in a service-oriented career where you engage with many customers, you can still experience social isolation if you lack quality and rewarding interaction, which can have negative effects on health.
There are many ways in which depression can affect relationships. The symptoms of depression, especially when combined with other co-occurring disorders like anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse disorders, can create real or perceived strains in all types of relationships. Those without depression are also at an increased risk of developing symptoms if they have poor quality relationships with family members, romantic partners or other social acquaintances. These symptoms could both further decrease the quality of those relationships and increase the severity of symptoms.
1. How Depression Impacts Family Relationships
It's important to remember that every case of depression is as unique as the person affected. The dynamics of each interpersonal relationship can be vastly different from one person to another and they can be altered by a number of factors including depression or other mental health issues. However, this does not mean depression will cause a relationship to become ruined, irreparable or forever damaged. Depression has the potential to put a strain on a relationship, but treatment and therapy can help to manage and reduce this impact.
A family history of depression and other mental health issues increases the likelihood that an individual will also develop similar conditions. It is often hard for family members - parents, siblings, children and other relatives - to understand what it's like to struggle with depression and they may be confused if this struggle is new.
Here are some ways that depression can impact family relationships, explained through brief scenarios:
- If a parent reacts with irritability, frustration or anger, it could cause their child to develop increased feelings of worthlessness.
- If an individual suddenly loses interest in an activity they do with their sibling, that brother or sister may feel abandoned, discarded or isolated.
- If a child experiences sadness and observes their parent suffering from the same depressive symptoms, they may feel that attempting to overcome the disease is hopeless.
- If one family member experiences increased anxiety and restlessness while the other feels tired and lacks energy, the ways in which they each try to cope with these symptoms may drive them further apart.
Without support from family members who understand, or at least seek to understand, the unique symptoms you're experiencing, it may be difficult for you to share your thoughts and feelings. If you don't believe they'll respect or accept the ways depression is affecting your mind and body, you may choose to distance yourself from them or begin to harbor negative feelings towards those who don't seem to be on your side.
Mothers and Depression: The Impact on Children
If you are a mother suffering from depression, it is natural to be concerned with how this will impact your child's development. Some studies have shown that there is an association between parents experiencing depression and the frequency of behavioral problems in their children, a lack of quality interpersonal functioning and lower results rating cognitive, intellectual and academic performance. Depression in parents also seems to have an association with increased rates of depression, cognitive vulnerabilities towards the disorder and increased rates of anxiety in their children.
However, this does not mean that a parent's depressed behavior alone will influence the likelihood of depression in their children. Other risk factors, or the absence of protective factors, can also influence child depression. These factors include comorbid psychiatric disorders, lifestyle hardships like poverty and exposure to violence and conflict. Additional influences that also play a role include genetic variability, severe and frequent exposure to stressful environments and prenatal exposure to anxiety. A parent's depression doesn't automatically translate to the development of a child's depression.
2. How Depression Impacts Romantic Relationships
A romantic relationship may bring enjoyment, contentment and even love into a person's life, however, these positive feelings won't necessarily reduce symptoms of depression. There is no "cure" for depression — negative thoughts or feelings can't simply be erased or replaced by positivity. This disease can impact romantic relationships just as significantly as other family relationships. The symptoms of depression may cause an individual to behave in ways that can interfere with a casual or serious romantic relationship and create emotional hardships.
Any sexual component in a relationship, including relationships in which sexual encounters exist without courtship, can be affected by depression. Decreased sex drive is one of the many symptoms of depression and can cause an individual to refrain from engaging in any sexual activities. Depression can decrease energy and make an individual feel negatively towards themselves and their partner which will greatly impact their desire to engage in sex.
Depression has an effect on all types of romantic relationships, especially if the opposite partner does not have depression or has suffered from it in the past. These individuals may withhold their support for their depressed partner or engage in intensive supportive actions, both of which can cause relationship strain. Conversely, it's been shown that many women will hide their depression from their spouse by engaging in self-silencing as an act of protection, thus not allowing the partner to have the opportunity to show support.
Many Americans admit that depression is a significant hurdle in their relationships. Depression can also affect marriages and has the potential to increase marital dissatisfaction and rates of divorce. In fact, divorce rates can increase nine times higher than average when one spouse suffers from depression. Though it's expected that familial issues or financial strains may impact a relationship, depression can make any issues in a marriage much more complicated and damaging.
3. How Depression Can Affect Friendships
Not only is it common for those struggling with depression to isolate themselves from their family and loved ones, it's also common for them to completely withdraw from their other social relationships. Depression has the potential to affect all types of relationship no matter how close or casual you and another person are. Some symptoms of depression may cause you to inadvertently push others in your life away.
Anger and irritability are two common signs of depression, but they could also be seen as personality flaws by others who do not understand depression's diverse symptoms. Aggressive behavior like becoming excessively mad, shouting or instigating conflict — and even passive-aggressive behaviors — can hurt the feelings of those you interact with. This could put a strain on your relationship and lead them to avoid interacting with you.
Warning Signs That Depression May Be Affecting Your Relationships
The symptoms of depression are diverse and vary in severity. You may be easily able to recognize these signs in a stranger and yet you could be completely unaware that this disease is causing a loved one to suffer. Similarly, you may also be portraying the signs and symptoms of depression without acknowledging or realizing the severity of its impact on your relationships. Depression can affect all of your relationships in vastly different ways. The following are warning signs that depression may be affecting your relationships.
1. You Feel Your Relationships Are Hopeless.
We allow those in our lives to occupy certain roles of varying degrees. These relationships — familial, intimate or platonic — create a support structure that can be a positive influence in our lives. Feeling that these relationships are meaningless or temporary is not healthy. Although family members pass, friends drift apart and relationships may dissolve, these are normal occurrences most individuals face in life. The potential for a relationship to come to an end is not a reason to abandon hope in all relationships.
2. Your Negative Emotions Influence Your Participation in Relationships.
Conflict is a natural part of our lives, however, avoiding this conflict is not always natural or healthy. Those who suffer from depression may have trouble dealing with intense, negative emotions — the same type of overwhelming emotions that are often present during a conflict. Reacting to these negative emotions in unhealthy ways does not allow you to process, rectify and overcome these feelings. If you completely withdraw from emotional conflict or react too strongly to it, it could damage your relationship.
3. You Use Destructive Behaviors to Cope With Depression Symptoms.
The onset of depression and the prevalence of this disease creates hardships throughout all aspects of your life. When some individuals suffering from depression feel that they cannot manage their symptoms, they may engage in negative behaviors in an ultimately failed attempt to relieve themselves of these issues.
Some self-destructive behaviors commonly cited are drug and alcohol abuse, both of which can negatively impact not only the depression symptoms but your overall quality of health as well. However, there are more ways in which a person could be engaging in damaging behavior without using these substances. Self-defeating thoughts and actions are also serious warning signs that have been found to be significant to suicidal thoughts in women. This sometimes subtle form of self-deprecation can be an eroding force that worsens depressive symptoms.
4. Your Sexual Activity Has Decreased Significantly or Is Non-Existent.
A decreased sexual drive is a symptom of depression and can occur at any time regardless of the relationship stage. The absence of sex, or more specifically the lack of physical contact and feelings of arousal, can cause partners to become physically and emotionally distant from one another. Although physiological conditions can cause a lowered sex drive, it is also a warning sign for depression and a potential way your relationship can become damaged.
5. You Experience Anxiety, Knowingly or Not.
Anxiety and depression are common co-occurring disorders — there's a high chance that those experiencing depression are also feeling symptoms of anxiety. One of the symptoms of anxiety is the urge to avoid situations that cause this panic. If you're actively avoiding interaction with your family, friends or partner for fear of having an anxiety attack, you may want to consider the possibility that you could be suffering from severe anxiety coupled with depression.
6. You Experience Changes in Your Sleep Patterns.
We seem only to get busier and busier as the weeks go by and it's not uncommon for individuals to feel tired or run down after juggling a full schedule. However, problems like insomnia and oversleeping can be indicative of depression. Regardless of how much sleep you get, if you feel consistently fatigued or find yourself unwilling to get out of bed to spend time with those you care about, you may be showing signs of depression.
7. You Engage in Self-Harm and Hide It From Others.
If you've attempted to harm yourself through any means, it may be hard to hide these injuries from others. Actively avoiding face-to-face interaction with those you care about because you're trying to conceal your injuries is a sign that you may be depressed.
8. You're Considering Suicide.
If you're considering suicide, or believe that to continue living is hopeless, get help immediately. You may be inclined to distance yourself from your support system, but this is the time you need these relationships most. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
Knowing When to Seek Help for Depression
Although at times depression may make a person feel isolated from everyone around them, no one needs to face depression alone. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of depression, it's important to know when an individual should seek professional help. Depression is highly treatable. Many people who have suffered from depression have regained their lives using a variety of treatments including therapy and medication. You can recover from your symptoms and manage this disorder. Realizing it's time to seek assistance from a mental health specialist is the first step.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing one or more of the following symptoms consistently for more than two weeks, you may be struggling with depression:
- Decreased energy or fatigue, especially that which prevents you from socializing with others
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies or activities performed alone or with friends and family
- Trouble focusing on tasks, recalling details or making decisions
- Trouble sleeping, insomnia or oversleeping
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness, or believing that you appear this way in the eyes of others
- Feeling hopeless or pessimistic about relationships or your general outlook on life
- Consistent feelings of heavy sadness, anxiety or emptiness
- Thoughts of death
- Thoughts or attempts at self-harm or suicide
Depression is a disorder that affects brain chemistry. Co-occurring disorders like anxiety or substance abuse may increase and further complicate symptoms of depression. Though you may believe that those in your life perceive your relationship in a negative light, it's likely depression causing you to feel this way and to see these relationships through a tinted lens. You may discover that seeking help for depression can improve the relationships you have with family members, friends and intimate partners.
Repairing Relationships Affected by Depression With Help From Brookhaven Retreat
Depression is a common disorder that many women struggle with. Unfortunately, this disease affects the way you think, feel and act, which often negatively impacts your relationships with family members, friends and romantic partners. This loneliness may sometimes lead to destructive coping mechanisms such as abusing drugs or alcohol, which also increases feelings of isolation. To prevent depression from affecting interpersonal relationships, many women seek compassionate support and professional treatment. By developing healthy coping mechanisms and treating mental health issues, you can successfully manage your depression.
Brookhaven Retreat is a safe and caring facility that welcomes women from all walks of life with understanding and support. Specializing in individualized treatment programs for mental health and substance abuse issues, we remove the stigma that prevents women from addressing these diseases and provide them with the resources needed to heal, grow and return to their lives as stronger and healthier women. We're dedicated to guiding these brave individuals through recovery by offering the encouragement, understanding and professional knowledge they need to achieve positive change in their lives.
If you believe that your relationships are being negatively affected by symptoms of depression, you should know these challenges that you are facing can be overcome. Our knowledgeable and compassionate staff is available to help you reshape your outlook on life, reduce the negative thoughts that cause emotional strife and rebuild the relationships that depression may have damaged. Contact Brookhaven Retreat today and let us help you regain control of your mental health and live a happier and healthier life.