How Depression Affects Young People's Relationships

teen couple

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The negative effects of depression on relationships involving children, teens, or adults are well-established. In general, depressed children and adolescents report having less satisfying relationships and feeling more insecure about their relationships.

Forming romantic relationships is an important developmental step for adolescents, as teen relationships teach important skills that aid future adult ones.

How Depression Affects Relationships

Adolescents with high levels of depressive symptoms may lack problem-solving skills, resulting in difficulty resolving conflict in romantic relationships through early adulthood, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology in 2011.

Researchers investigated the depressive symptoms, problem-solving skills, and conflict resolution behavior of 200 10th-grade students over a period of four and a half years. They suggest that depressive symptoms may interfere with the acquisition of problem-solving skills, which appear to be essential for future romantic relationships.

Common symptoms of depression, such as social withdrawal, feeling misunderstood, or irritability, may decrease a child's desire to form relationships at all.

Interactions Are More Difficult

Depression often causes people to feel more irritable. This can be problematic in romantic relationships, but it can impact other social interactions as well including those with friends, family, classmates, teachers, and co-workers.

Withdrawal Can Lead to Social Isolation

Because interacting with people is often difficult or exhausting when you are depressed, teens and young adults may withdraw from friends and family. People who are depressed may also feel worthless and unworthy, which further exacerbates social withdrawal. 

Lack of relationships, of course, may deprive such youth of the problem-solving and conflict resolution skills that will serve them well in adulthood.

When It May Be Depression

Distress in a relationship has been identified as a precursor and consequence of childhood depression. Given this, parents of children or adolescents who show significant distress or difficulty in relationships should watch out for other signs and symptoms of depression, such as:

  • Sadness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Unexplained physical complaints
  • Sleeping and appetite changes

Even subsyndromal symptoms of depression are shown to negatively affect romantic relationships. Therefore, the early identification and treatment of even mild depressive symptoms in childhood could have important benefits for your child.

What to Do If You Are Depressed and In a Relationship

Social support can be an important tool for coping with symptoms of depression. If you start to notice signs that you are withdrawing from friends or that you are struggling to maintain relationships with partners, there are things you can do:

  • Talk about it. While it can be helpful to be around upbeat people when you are feeling down, it can also feel exhausting. When you need some time and space, let the people around you know what you are going through and ask for a little space.
  • Find ways to connect on your terms. If you aren't able to spend time socializing because of your depression, try to find other ways to connect. Talking on the phone, texting, or other forms of online communication can help you maintain positive social connections. Let your partner know that you might need some space to decompress and deal with your emotions privately.
  • Have realistic expectations. Your partner, no matter how sympathetic, might not be able to fully understand. Let them know that what you are looking for is support.
  • Join an online support group. Online communities can be a helpful place to find support and connections when you are depressed. It can also be helpful to talk to other teens who are going through the same thing.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Loved One Is Depressed

It can be difficult to see the person you are in a relationship with struggle with feelings of depression. If you suspect that your loved one might be depressed:

  • Have empathy. Depression is a serious condition, not something that someone can simply pull themselves out of if they "try hard enough." Ask your loved one how they are feeling, express support, and encourage them to talk to a doctor or mental health professional.
  • Be supportive. Feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, and irritability are all common symptoms of depression. Let your loved one know that you care and that you accept them, even when they are feeling low.
  • Don't go it alone. It's important to understand that while you can show your love and support for your loved one, it is not your job to "fix" things. If you need help, reach out to a trusted adult such as your parents, your partner's parents, a teacher, or your school counselor.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

All children and adolescents will have ups and downs in their relationships, but if you feel like your child's relationship difficulties are significantly interfering with their daily functioning, it is worth talking to their pediatrician or mental health provider to explore what's happening. On the other hand, depression may not be the cause of a child's bad relationship. Incompatibility or the fleeting nature of young love could be to blame as well.

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  1. Vujeva HM, Furman W. Depressive symptoms and romantic relationship qualities from adolescence through emerging adulthood: A longitudinal examination of influences. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2011;40(1):123-35. doi:10.1080/15374416.2011.533414

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