Natalia S. David, Psy.D.
Depression is a mental illness that requires treatment just like any other medical condition. If your spouse is suffering from depression, there are things that you can do to help. Helping your spouse get treatment, supporting your spouse during treatment, and taking good care of yourself are all important ways that you can help your spouse recover from depression. Keep reading to learn more about how to help your spouse with depression.
Arranging Treatment for Your Spouse
Recognize the symptoms of depression in your spouse. You may suspect that your spouse is depressed by the way he or she is acting. If you are unsure, there are several common signs of depression that may help you to determine if something is wrong. Some of the common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad feelings
- Loss of interest in hobbies, friends and/or sex
- Excessive fatigue or feeling slowed down in thinking, speaking, or movement
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Trouble concentrating and making decisions
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Weight loss or gain
- Thoughts of suicide
- Aches pains or digestive problems
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
Encourage your spouse or partner seek help if they haven’t already. Your spouse’s depression may be so debilitating that it makes him/her unable to ask for help. He or she may also be embarrassed about their condition. If you suspect your spouse has depression, encourage them to talk to a therapist.
- Arrange for your spouse to talk to a therapist. The therapist may make a referral for your spouse to see a psychiatrist.
- You can also ask your spouse or partner if he or she wants you to be there for moral support.
- If you are not sure where to start, you can also consider making your spouse an appointment with your spouse’s primary care physician to get recommendations.
Understanding depression, its effects and treatment will allow you to better understand your spouse and help him or her to make informed decisions. Ask questions, read books and visit reliable websites about the diagnosis and treatment of depression. There are many organizations that provide resources for people suffering from depression. Check out some of these websites to find helpful information as you support your spouse.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness website offers many resources, from basic information, to support groups, and free courses.
- The American Psychological Association’s website offers information on depression, a psychologist search tool, and information on books and articles about depression.
- The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website includes a variety of resources, such as podcasts, videos, and a support group finder.
Encourage your spouse to open up to you. Talking openly about depression as a real illness with real consequences often brings relief to people with depression, since it demonstrates that someone cares and is willing to help. It is important for your partner to get professional help, but your partner may also benefit from talking to you about their feelings.
- Say encouraging things to your spouse every day to let them know that you care. Say something like, “I love you and I am here for you,” before you leave for work. Or acknowledge their accomplishments for the day by saying, “I am so proud of you and what you have accomplished today.”
- Let your spouse know that you are there for them by saying something like, “I know you are going through a difficult time right now, and I just want you to know that I am here for you whenever you need to talk. Even if I am not home and you need to talk, call me and I will be there for you.”
when your spouse wants to talk. Demonstrating that you are hearing your spouse and understanding his or her point of view is another important aspect of supporting them through recovery. Allow your spouse to tell you about his or her feelings and make sure that you allow your spouse to fully express themselves.
- Don’t pressure your spouse into sharing. Just let them know that you are willing to listen when they are ready and give them time.
- Be attentive as you listen to your spouse. Nod and react appropriately to let them know that you are listening.
- Try echoing what your spouse has just said now and then during the conversation to let them know that you are paying attention.
- Avoid getting defensive, trying to take over the conversation, or ending sentences for them. Be patient even though it might be hard sometimes.
- Continue to make your spouse feel heard by saying things like, “I see,” “Go on,” and “Yes.”
Participate in your spouse’s or partner’s recovery. While you may not understand the reasons for your spouse’s depression, it is important that you support him or her during the treatment process. You may have some idea of what you can do to help your spouse, but if you are not sure you could also ask. Some ways that you could help your spouse include:
- Taking over some of your spouse’s usual responsibilities. This may mean taking over some of the tasks your spouse or partner used to be responsible for, such as paying bills, talking to people who knock at the front door, dealing with neighborhood disputes, etc. Ask your partner what you could do to help if you are not sure. Keep in mind that you won’t be taking over your spouse’s responsibilities forever, just until he or she recovers. You can also enlist the help of friends and family.
- Making sure your spouse is taking care of his or her physical needs. Make sure that your spouse is eating well, getting moderate exercise, sleeping well, and taking his or her medications.
- Sitting in on some counseling sessions, if possible or desirable (but don’t force your spouse or partner to agree to let you sit in).
Provide your spouse or partner with hope in whatever form they can accept.Hope can come in many forms including faith in God, love for their children and any other reason that is meaningful for your spouse. Learn what matters the most to your spouse and remind them about these things during the times they don’t think they can hold on any longer. Tell them that bad things pass even if it seems impossible right now, that you’ll be there for them through it all, and that he or she is very important in your life.
- Make sure your spouse understands how much you love them and that you will support them through this difficult time no matter what. Tell them that you know it’s not their fault.
- Make sure they know that you understand if they can’t meet certain household obligations. Things that you consider normal everyday tasks such as feeding the dog, cleaning the house or paying the bills might be overwhelming to them.
- Always talk about the illness creating the thoughts in your spouse or partner, and that it is the illness that causes him or her to think things are terrible, impossible, unfixable, etc. Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings and promise to work out a solution together.
Encourage your spouse or partner to do the things they used to enjoy and to try new things that might help with their recovery. Ask them to go to the movies with you or to go on walks with you. If they refuse the first few times, just be patient and keep asking. Just don’t push too hard, since he or she may not be able to cope with too many activities at once.
- Remember to praise your spouse or partner whenever they’re doing something that benefits them and makes them feel better. A simple statement like “Thanks for mowing the lawn. It looks beautiful. I really appreciate it” could mean a lot to a person with depression
Plan fun things to do. Your spouse might feel more comfortable just spending time at home with you and your family, but you should plan fun activities for the whole family to enjoy. It’s good for everyone in a family to have things to look forward to. These will be beneficial for not only your spouse or partner with depression, but also for you and for any kids, as a change in environment will give you all a break.
- If you don’t have kids, consider inviting a couple of good friends over. Just make sure that you invite friends that your spouse feels really comfortable around.
Recognize the signs of suicide. People with depression do sometimes commit suicide when the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness become too much to bear. If you spouse talks about suicide, take it seriously. Don’t assume they won’t act out on their thoughts, especially where there is evidence that they have a plan. Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:
- Threats or talk of suicide
- Statements implying they don’t care about anything or won’t be around anymore
- Giving away their stuff; making a will or funeral arrangements
- The purchase of a gun or other weapon
- Sudden, unexplained cheerfulness or calm after a period of depression
- If you observe any of this behavior get help right away! Call a health care professional, mental health clinic or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to get advice about what action to take.
Look after yourself. It’s easy to forget about your own needs when your spouse is in pain, but if you’re unable to function properly, then you won’t be able to help. In fact, feelings of depression can influence the mood of your entire family. That’s why you should be sure to take good care of yourself while you are helping your spouse deal with depression.
- Get enough sleep, eat well, keep exercising, and keep in touch with family and friends for emotional support.
- Set aside some alone time to step away from the situation.
- Consider getting therapy or joining a support group since this may help you cope better with your spouse’s depression.
- Reduce your stress at work and other situations. Having too many sources of stress will wear you down.
- You’ll also need to deal with the impacts of your spouse’s or partner’s depression on your kids; seek advice from your doctor and other health professionals in charge of caring for your kids’ well-being.