Relationships are challenging. Even the longest-lasting, seemingly happy relationships are faced with routine ups and downs, which can lead to moments of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. The day to day challenges faced by a typical relationship is exacerbated when someone in the relationship suffers from depression.
Developing romantic relationships is an integral part of the development process for adolescents. These early relationships formed and fostered as teens, help to teach essential skills that can be applied to future adult relationships. Depression and its associated symptoms can impart a variety of adverse effects on relationships for people of all ages; however, for teens who often experience challenges properly understanding their emotions and feelings, depression can highlight this negativity. In general, depressed teens and adolescents report their relationships are less satisfying, and they feel more insecure in their relationships.
How depression affects relationships
Teens and adolescents with high levels of teen depressive symptoms often lack problem-solving skills common in those who do not experience the same symptoms. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology in 2011, this results in challenges and difficulties resolving conflict in romantic relationships throughout early adulthood.
During this study, researchers investigated the depressive symptoms, problem-solving skills, and conflict resolution capabilities in two hundred students of high school age over a period of four and a half years. The results of this study suggest that the depressive symptoms these teens experience may interfere with the development of problem-solving skills that are essential to the survival of future romantic relationships.
If your teen is in a relationship and experiencing abnormal struggles, it is possible that depression may be to blame. The research above, along with a significant body of additional research shows depression is related to relationships in a cyclical way. First, depression affects the quality of your teens relationship, which results in negative features of the relationship that affect depression levels. In a more simple to understand explanation, depressive symptoms ion your teen can cause them to pay less attention to their partner, be less involved in the relationship and be more irritable and have difficulties enjoying time spent with their partner. All of these symptoms or features of depression can result in your teen’s relationships faltering, sometimes without them or their partner completely understanding why. Looked at from a different angle, problems within the relationship such as excessive conflict, lack of communication, challenges with problem resolution, and withdrawal by one partner or the other can result in symptoms of depression.
Unfortunately, depression can either be the cause of or the result of challenges in your teen’s romantic relationships, therefore, it is vital to understand the common symptoms of depression and ways you and your teen (as well as their partner) may be able to help understand and combat depressive symptoms before they have a negative impact on your teen’s relationship(s).
Depressive symptoms and what to look for
Distress within a relationship or failure of multiple relationships has shown to be both a consequence and an early warning sign of adolescent depression. As a parent, below is something you may want to watch for in your teen that could be indicators of depressive symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms of depression include sadness, abnormal (or unexplained) feelings of guilt, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping, lethargy, changes in appetite, and unexplained physical symptoms such as pain or stomach discomfort. Symptoms or signs that occur within the relationship can include withdrawal, irritability, feeling misunderstood by their partner, or even the lack of desire to form romantic relationships at all due to the unpleasant feelings that often result.
For adolescents and teens who struggle with depressive symptoms, interactions with friends, family, and loved ones may be more difficult. Depression and its associated symptoms often cause people to feel more irritable. This irritability can undoubtedly be an issue in romantic relationships. Still, it can also be a challenge around social interactions as well, including those with friends, family, classmates, co-workers, and teachers.
Depression can also lead to social isolation. Interaction with people can be complicated when you are depressed. To counter these difficulties, your teen may begin to withdraw from friends and family. Your teen may also vocalize feelings of worthlessness and unworthiness. These emotions, regardless of their validity, only serve to exacerbate further social withdrawal or avoidance of relationships of any kind. Although this lack of relationships is seemingly voluntary, it may further your teen’s lack of or failure to develop problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, which are often developed during early relationships.
Ways to help
If your teen is involved in a relationship where depressive symptoms present a challenge, there are various coping mechanisms you, as a parent, can help them develop. Social supports are a very important coping tool for managing the symptoms of depression. If you notice your teen is beginning to withdraw from friends or may be struggling to maintain relationships with partners, there are a few things you can do or suggest.
Talk about it- Communication, although sometimes challenging, is a vital component for managing depressive symptoms. Although it can be helpful to be around upbeat and energetic people when your teen is feeling down, it can also be exhausting for them. If they think they need time or space, they must communicate those needs to their partner or friends. If they explain, in the best way they are able, their need for time and space before their symptoms become overwhelming, it may help to curb social withdrawal and self-imposed isolation.
Find alternative ways to connect- If your teen’s depression interferes with their ability or desire to “be social,” they can try to find alternative ways to connect that do not require face to face interactions. This can be challenging for a romantic relationship; however, it is vital to maintain a connection even when physical connections are not comfortable. Your teen can use various communication strategies such as talking on the phone, texting, or maybe even visual communication tools such as Facetime to help maintain positive social interactions and limit isolation. Maintaining interactions in this way may potentially help your teen to preserve their relationships while taking the needed time and space to manage their emotions and symptoms on their own terms.
Be realistic in your expectations- It is essential that your teen realize their partner may not be able to understand their symptoms fully. For someone on the other side of depression, it can be challenging to feel as though your partner is pulling away from you without explanation or reason. It is essential your teen explain what they need most from their partner is support. This can be a hard conversation for teens, especially as many of the communication strategies necessary for “deep” discussions such as these are not fully developed or may be overshadowed by dominant depressive symptoms.
Your teen and the other side of depressive relationships
Perhaps your teen is not the element of the relationship experiencing depressive symptoms. If their partner is experiencing symptoms and your teen is confused, below are a few things they can do to support their partner.
Have empathy- Just as your teen would need or want empathy from their partner if the roles were reversed, they must empathize and understand if their partner is struggling. Depression is a severe and challenging condition, not something one can just flip a switch and turn off. No matter how hard someone tries, the symptoms of depression can be powerful and pervasive. Your teen can express support and perhaps suggest their partner seek out someone to talk to about their emotions if they are not comfortable opening up to them (your teen) or family.
Be supportive- Feelings of worthlessness, decreased self-esteem, and irritability are all common depressive symptoms. It is essential your teen let their partner know they care, even when their partner is feeling low or out of sorts.
The feelings that come with depression and depressive symptoms can create significant challenges to romantic relationships. Giving and receiving love and compassion can be difficult when feelings of irritability, worthlessness, and worry take over. It is hard to show feelings of love to someone else when you do not feel capable of loving yourself. With all these challenges, it may seem like the odds are stacked against any relationship in which depression is involved. However, many of the issues that present themselves can be resolved ones the parties to the relationship are aware of them, and they know how to utilize coping strategies for their depressive symptoms.
If your teen is frequently experiencing depressive symptoms that interfere with their relationships or day-to-day functioning, it may be valuable to consider seeking treatment from a mental health provider. A trained provider such as those here at Hillcrest can help your teen to communicate their emotions and concerns. They can also help your teen to understand their symptoms and gain a better understanding of the place from where those symptoms arise. One of the most important elements of treatment is your teen’s ability to develop problem-solving, conflict resolution, and other coping strategies, which can be vital in dealing with the onset of depressive symptoms. Developing these skills and strategies can assist your teen in maintaining their relationships and helping those they care for to understand their symptoms, how those symptoms affect their social desires and, perhaps most importantly, how to explain the need for space and time to unpack their emotions without pushing their partner away.
Depression can create challenges in any relationship, regardless of age. If your teen is experiencing difficulties related to depression and depressive symptoms, contact us at Hillcrest today.