About 18 million Americans suffer from depression and another 20 million worldwide use dating websites each month, according to Online Dating Magazine. Chances are, there are people who will be in both groups.
But dating can be a challenge when you suffer from depression. "Sometimes if you don't feel like smiling but are in a situation where you're expected to be happy, that can make you feel even worse," says Helen Friedman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in St. Louis.
That said, meeting a new person can also be a source of joy. These 10 simple tips can help make dating a bit easier.
Consider professional help
If you're depressed, dating can magnify some of your challenges, such as fatigue, irritability, low self-esteem and reduced libido. The best way to stay strong? Seek treatment, if you haven't already.
With greater awareness about depression, the stigma of mental illness has diminished somewhat. Therapy and/or medication use is common and often very successful. More than 80 percent of people who seek treatment get relief from symptoms, according to Mental Health America.
Time it right
You need to take good care of yourself before you can take care of someone else in a relationship.
To do this, be sure to engage in positive self-talk, Friedman says. And if you are on medication, take it religiously. Be consistent with therapy; surround yourself with a support system of friends and family; and be around upbeat, positive people.
"Don't push yourself to date if the timing doesn't feel right," she says. "Honor yourself. You might need to lick your own wounds first."
Don't tell on the first date
You don't owe it to the person to discuss your depression on a first date, Friedman says. If things become more serious, however, you should tell your potential partner. Friedman says a good time might be when you decide to see each other exclusively or when you just feel that you care more deeply about each other.
"There are always individual differences," she says. "Something may come up in a conversation where it would feel like a natural time or that it would be dishonest not to. You might choose that time to share that you have depression."
How to talk about it
When you feel the time is right, Friedman suggests a three-part "script."
First, tell your partner that she is important to you, enough so that you have something about yourself to share with her.
Second, don't just blurt out "I suffer from depression." Instead, preface it by telling her there's something you've struggled with that's a fairly common problem; let her know you have been diagnosed with depression and that you're taking care of yourself by seeking treatment.
And finally, emphasize again that you care about the person and the relationship. This message is as important as telling her that you have depression, says Friedman.
In addition to surrounding yourself with the support of friends and family, Sheela Raja, PhD, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says it's important to let potential partners know how they can help you.
For example, if you exercise regularly to help lift your mood, ask your partner to join you. If they will support you in your endeavors, "they could be a real keeper," she says.
Telling them about the challenges you face or going to couples counseling can also be helpful. Just talking about your relationship and how depression may impact it lets a person know you want him or her to be a part of your life.
If your potential partner asks questions or offers advice, recognize the good intent behind the words — even if they aren't that helpful.
For example, men often feel that it's their job to make their partner happy, says Friedman. Understand his desire to help, but let him know you can't always put on a happy face.
Some women, on the other hand, expect men to take the initiative to plan dates or activities. This can be hard to do when you are depressed and you have little energy. Let her know you want to be with her, but you may have to keep things low-key.
Depression, and some antidepressants, can cause you to lose interest in sex. If you are having libido problems that are medication related, talk to your doctor about alternatives that might be less likely to dampen your sex drive.
You can also let your partner know that you care in other ways. If you don't feel like having sex, let the person know you still find him or her attractive by cuddling or being affectionate.
Don't repeat past dating mistakes
It is important to know your own weaknesses and strengths and understand your dating pitfalls. If you find yourself falling into a pattern that didn't work for you in the past (like dating someone who makes you feel bad about yourself), leave the situation, and take some time off or find another companion.
"Therapy might help you to work out any issues you have in order to go forward in your relationships and not repeat past mistakes," Friedman says.
Millions of people turn to the internet to find romantic partners, but that doesn't mean it's not difficult, says Friedman.
"It is easy to get discouraged when dating online," she says. "It takes skill to know how to navigate online dating to find someone special."
There are sites geared specifically for those with mental illness, such as Nolongerlonely.com. Friedman says these types of sites can be a good place to go to, but consider mainstream dating sites as well.
Don't give up after meeting just one or two people. Discuss the process with friends and family; having a good support system can help.
One thing to remember about dating is that all people have some kind of baggage they bring along for the ride. So don't be too hard on yourself, says Los Angeles–based therapist Nancy Irwin, PsyD.
"Most people have some issue that they manage — either their weight or acne or a past," she says.
If the person and the relationship are right for you, depression isn't likely to be a deal breaker.
For more from Health.com:
- 10 Careers With High Rates of Depression
- How to Help Someone Who's Depressed
- 20 Celebrities Who Battled Depression