How Depression Affects Relationships for Young People

teen couple

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The negative effects of depression on relationships involving children, teens, or adults are well-established. Research has found that the quality of peer relationships plays a significant role in predicting the severity of depression symptoms. Improving interpersonal relationships has been shown to be effective in reducing depression in teens.

Forming romantic relationships is an important developmental step for adolescents. 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.

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 may then play a role in depriving youth of the problem-solving and conflict resolution skills that will serve them well in adulthood.

Future Relationship Problems

Research also suggests that teen depression can have other lasting effects on relationships that persist into adulthood.

In one study, people who reported depressive symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and behaviors, as teens were significantly more likely to experience unhealthy adult romantic relationships. As adults, they were more likely to have relationships marked by sexual infidelity (either their own or their partner's) and intimate partner violence.

Treating symptoms of teen depression may help protect against such outcomes and improve romantic relationships 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:

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

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 988 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.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Adedeji A, Otto C, Kaman A, Reiss F, Devine J, Ravens-Sieberer U. Peer relationships and depressive symptoms among adolescents: results from the German Bella study. Front Psychol. 2022;12:767922. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.767922

  2. 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

  3. Balbuena L, Bowen R, Baetz M, Marwaha S. Mood instability and irritability as core symptoms of major depression: An exploration using Rasch analysisFront Psychiatry. 2016;7:174. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00174

  4. Child Trends. Research brief: Measuring the associations between symptoms of depression and suicide in adolescence and unhealthy romantic relationships in adulthood.

  5. For friends and family members.

By Lauren DiMaria
Lauren DiMaria is a member of the Society of Clinical Research Associates and childhood psychology expert.