Unhappy couple sat on the end of a bed

Understand how depression can affect your relationship

One in five Australians[1] will experience a mental health condition such as depression each year, with one in two doing so during their lifetime.

Traditional practice from mental health professionals often focusses on the mental health of an individual, overlooking how individuals relate to one another in a relationship. Individuals with a mental health condition such as depression can have a negative impact on their spouse’s mental health, and vice versa, sometimes even leading to relationship breakdown.


Depression and relationships

Depression is an intense and sometimes ongoing feeling of sadness. It is normal to get sad or upset from time-to-time, with most people, getting over whatever it was that upset them. However, for a person living with depression it can last for days, weeks or even years. This can inevitably put a strain on even the strongest of relationships.

Common signs that indicate depression could be a factor in your relationship:

  • Withdrawal – You or your partner feels withdrawn, disconnected, detached or distant.
  • Regular criticism – A depressed person may focus heavily on the negatives in their relationship and criticize their partner verbally. It is important to note that disagreements are normal and a healthy aspect of a relationship, and while they may result in arguing, even in happy relationships, in most cases, both people tend to make up and move on.
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms – Someone who is depressed is more likely to turn to drugs, alcohol and junk food.
  • Lack of physical or social energy – People experiencing depression often report a lack of energy or drive. Depression can have a major effect on motivation, and that can strain a relationship.
  • Lack of intimacy – Depression can affect how someone feels about intimacy and sex, contributing to feelings of disconnection and detachment. One study suggested that people experiencing depression also report less sex drive.


Recognising and dealing with depression in relationships

If you believe depression to be a factor in your relationship, try talking honestly and openly about it. Talking about how you both feel is one of the most important things you can do. Ignoring the stresses, worries and underlying concerns that affect a relationship will not improve the situation, and may make the problem worse. It is far better to deal with the issues now, than to wait for a problem to become much harder later on.


If you need to talk to a counsellor, call Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

If it is an emergency, dial 000.



[1] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/research-projects/statistics-and-references