How to help a depressed spouse
When you married your partner, you agreed to love and support them for better or for worse, through sickness and in health. Though you may have found it easy to maintain your connection when you were both in a good mental space, your vows are tested when one of you experiences emotional issues.
Relationships take work, and those that are marked by a depressed spouse take even more work than usual. Whether you are learning how to communicate better or are striving to keep the passion alive in your partnership, you must continually work on both the relationship and yourself to sustain a healthy union.
Dealing with a depressed wife or depressed husband can be very challenging. Some days your partner is happy and productive, and other times they’re unable to tap into their sense of vitality. Your partner is suffering, and as a result, your marriage is now full of tension.
Depression is a very serious mental health disorder, especially when it is chronic and not due to circumstances such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. Men and women display signs of depression differently, and it’s crucial that you learn how to recognize these signs in your spouse so you can encourage them to get them the help they need.
Marriages in which one of the partners is depressed are nine times more likely to end in divorce, but don’t think your union is destined to fail just because one of you is struggling with depression. You can have a joyful, fulfilling union with your partner. By learning how to help a depressed spouse, you can go from living in a state of frustration to sustaining the vibrant marriage you know you’re both capable of.
Understanding mental health
Before you can understand how to support your partner, you have to have an understanding of what’s affecting them. Depression symptoms can vary and range in intensity depending on the person, but your partner is most likely depressed if they feel sad or anxious most of the time, have an irregular sleep cycle, have lost passion or energy to contribute to things they once loved or talk about feeling worthless or hopeless. Abusing substances to cope with their emotional state is another telltale sign of depression. You may also find that your depressed husband increases his time with friends or hours at work while a depressed wife stops having family members come over for dinner or stops doing girls’ night out with her friends.
A noticeable change in expressing emotions is also a sign. A depressed spouse who is normally stoic may start crying for no apparent reason or an emotionally demonstrative partner could become apathetic.
Once you are able to say “My wife is depressed” or “My husband is depressed,” you’ve taken the first step to helping them. There’s no lab test to confirm that your spouse has depression, but if you suspect that they are suffering from this mental health condition, encourage them to speak with a medical health professional. Sometimes how to help a depressed spouse means simply encouraging them to get the help they need – especially if the root of the problem has never been dealt with.
While the exact cause of depression is not entirely known, medical professionals believe that it is the result of a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors. That is to say, you could have a depressed husband or wife because it’s simply in their DNA or they could be reacting to trauma or a rough period they’re going through. Whatever the cause of your partner’s depression, it’s crucial that you let them know that you’re there for them. You need to be gentle with them as they go through this struggle and show them you want them to be healthy and happy. Here’s more information on how to help a depressed spouse.
Understand the gender divide
When someone as close to you as your husband or wife is experiencing depression, it can feel isolating. You might feel like you’re the only person on the planet dealing with this struggle. But the truth is, roughly 16 million Americans deal with depression every single year. Depression can affect anyone, no matter their age, gender or previous experiences with mental health.
There are universal ways to support your spouse when they’re going through a bout of depression, but there are also some things to know specifically about how gender affects depression. Whether you’re learning how to help a depressed husband or looking to care for your wife, you need to know how the signs of depression can present differently in genders.
Depression in women
Did you know that women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men? There are some biological reasons for this, including changing hormone levels before and after pregnancy as well as before and after menopause. There are also cultural aspects that contribute to depression in women, like dealing with added stress from workplace bias, harassment or pay discrimination. There are many societal pressures placed on women to not only develop high-powered careers, but also to do the majority of domestic tasks all while appearing happy, beautiful and young. That’s a lot of weight for one person to carry around.
When helping a depressed spouse, it’s important to learn how to recognize the signs. A depressed wife may cry more frequently, have a lack of interest in seeing her friends, sleep excessively or routinely overeat. She may also show a lack of interest in intimate conversations that help you stay connected or become irritable when you ask her what’s wrong.
If you suspect you have a depressed wife, talk about how she’s feeling but be aware that her depression may keep her from being forthcoming. Make sure you use a loving tone when you attempt to ask her about what she’s going through. Is she feeling overloaded at the office or at home? Is she dealing with something like postpartum depression after the birth of your new baby? Is she feeling the pressures of wanting to be perfect? There could be many reasons why you have a depressed wife. Speak with her candidly about what she’s experiencing and help her feel supported and loved. Let her speak without interruption, and don’t pass judgment on what she may or may not be feeling. If she is not in the mood to talk, don’t push too hard. Wait a day or two and then bring up the subject again.
Depression in men
Learning how to help a depressed husband can be quite different. Sometimes men express their depression through bouts of anger or aggression, which can lead to them being undiagnosed as we often think of depression manifesting in the form of sadness. Culturally, men are less encouraged to assess and discuss their feelings, so your depressed husband might be having a hard time expressing what he’s going through. Instead of isolating himself, a depressed husband may spend more time out with his friends or stay at work late as a form of distraction. He is also more likely to abuse alcohol than a depressed wife and could also display unusual risk-taking behavior.
A depressed husband is less likely than a depressed wife to want to talk about his issues. When it comes to how to help a depressed spouse who won’t communicate, it can help to assure him that you’re inquiring about his health from a position of concern, not judgment. Continue to work on communicating with him by being in the moment, being honest about how you feel and by trying to understand his point of view.
The American Psychological Association reports that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. If you have a depressed husband, you should keep in mind that isolation is a major contributing factor to suicidal thoughts. Many husbands depend on their wives for social connections, so if you have a depressed husband, you should make efforts to get him out of the house and around those who care about him. Don’t mistake him spending more time with work acquaintances or at happy hour as social support. He needs to be around those who know him and can give him the empathy and advice he needs.
How to help a depressed spouse
- Encourage communication
When was the last time you really communicated with your partner? Beyond talking about how your day was or making plans to pick up dinner, when was the last time you connected? When dealing with a depressed husband or a depressed wife, communication becomes more important than ever. Remember that some people, especially men, have a harder time expressing their thoughts and feelings. Create a safe, judgment-free environment for your spouse to connect with you in. Also encourage your partner to communicate and socialize with friends. Human connection can do wonders for depressed individuals.
- Get physical
Changing your partner’s physiological state can have an incredible affect on their mood. A trip to the gym or even a walk around the neighborhood can have a positive effect on depression. If your depressed husband or wife is having a hard time committing to working out on their own, join them. Whether it’s going to fitness classes or going hiking, these small acts can lift their mood and strengthen your bond.
- Create a low-stress home environment
If you say to yourself, “My wife or my husband is depressed,” your next thought should be what can you do to help out around the house. A low-stress home environment where there are not piles of laundry or dirty dishes and where there is an established routine of cooking meals and planning free time can do wonders when it comes to how to help a depressed spouse.
- Give plenty of positive reinforcement
Your depressed spouse likely has low self-esteem during this time, so it’s important you offer positive reinforcement as much as possible. Though getting out of bed and getting into the shower is not a big accomplishment for someone who is emotionally healthy, it can be a huge challenge for a depressed husband or wife. Instead of punishing your partner for not accomplishing more, tell him or her how proud you are of every small win. This will encourage them to try even harder and will reassure them you are on their side.
Understand that depression is a part of life
Until recently, there was a stigma surrounding mental health in America. People were afraid to be seen as different or broken if they admitted to having a mental health concern. The culture has changed and many now recognize that depression and other mental health issues are a natural part of life. Everyone is affected by mental health to some degree. When you feel isolated in dealing with a depressed spouse, know that you’re not alone. You can sustain an incredible marriage and you have all the resources you need to live in a beautiful state.
Depression is serious. With all the resources out there, just knowing where to start can be overwhelming. If you’re thinking about ending your life, call one of the suicide hotlines: 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) and 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). If you have a plan to commit suicide, go to the emergency room for immediate treatment. The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. See full disclaimer.