This can make life exceedingly difficult for their spouse and family, as acknowledging the issue is the very first step in working towards healing. The wife of a depressed husband can feel helpless, confused, and frustrated and are often susceptible to falling into depression too.
Understandably, this can have a devastating impact on home and family life, and lead to relationship breakdown and myriad emotional issues if not handled appropriately. The good news, however, is that there is much that can be done to help your depressed husband, together with God’s help.
Steps to Help Your Depressed Husband
Here is an overview of some steps that can be worked through, ideally with the support of a Biblical counselor:
1. Diagnose the problem
Symptoms of depression vary from individual to individual and can be mild or severe. The American Psychiatric Association states that a combination of symptoms from the list below needs to last at least two weeks before a medical professional can diagnose clinical depression:
- feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or guilt
- loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- changes in appetite or weight
- changes in sleeping habits
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- thoughts of death or suicide
An appointment with a physician will help to rule out any potential medical issues that could be giving rise to the symptoms. Getting to the point of diagnosis can take some time as men often express their depression through bouts of anger or aggression, rather than sadness.
Instead of isolating himself, a wife may notice her depressed husband spending more time at work, or with friends, as a form of distraction. Men are more likely to abuse alcohol or other substances or display unusual risk-taking when they are depressed.
2. Get educatedThere are different types of depression, and following the physician’s diagnosis, a wife supporting her husband through a journey of recovery can help by understanding the disease and how it plays out on a day-to-day basis. A major depressive disorder can be extremely debilitating, to the point where basic functions cannot be carried out, while psychotic depression includes delusional behavior and hallucinations.
Minor depression includes less severe symptoms, while persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) often spans a lengthy period (several years) with light symptoms. Learning about what he is going through, and how he will have good days and bad days can arm a wife with the knowledge she needs to offer the right kind of support to her husband.
3. Seek appropriate treatment
Getting the right professional treatment is essential, which often includes persisting with the use of recommended medication along with some type of psychotherapy. Depression is not an illness that can generally be treated with drugs alone.
A Biblically trained counselor is well-placed to guide a depressed husband through sessions which will help him uncover the root of his struggles and come alongside him in the renewing of his mind through God’s Word, once he is in the mental space to do this.
While depression is complex and should in no way be reduced to a simplistic solution, a number of the symptoms have to do with the way people think, react to adverse circumstances, or relate to others; and so, addressing pessimistic thinking, guilt, and personal problems is critical in breaking unhealthy cycles and forging a way forward.
4. Pray daily
A wife’s prayers for her depressed husband are undoubtedly the most important part of his healing process. Depression is nothing new, and the Bible is full of characters who cry out to God for help when they are struggling with mental turmoil. David spoke to the Lord throughout various Psalms about feeling “feeble and utterly crushed” and “groaning in anguish of heart” (Psalm 38).
While it can be difficult to pray for yourself when you are going through a depression, the prayers of those around you, particularly your spouse, are what will carry a person through a difficult time. A praying wife wages war against depression with an indestructible weapon!
5. Give the right kind of support
Living with a depressed husband can be extremely difficult for a wife, especially if she has not experienced something similar in her own life. It can be tempting to try to motivate the person towards “snapping out of it” or a similar sort of action, but this is rarely helpful.
A wife who lets her husband know that she is “in his corner” and that they will face the challenge together, provides immeasurable support. Checking in that they’re taking their medication and going to appointments, letting them know you’re available to talk and using language that validates their feelings, can go a long way towards actually helping the person move out of their depressive state.
6. Clear the clutter
External mess and a disorganized home can be overwhelming for someone struggling with depression, and a wife looking to help her depressed husband can take extra care to keep their living space free of clutter. Administrative tasks can also prove beyond their capability, and a wife may have to take on additional functions to clear the way for her husband to make a quicker and more effective recovery.
7. Exercise together
Exercise is a good way to boost one’s mood, and a daily walk together, bike ride, or swim can help a couple considerably. As depression diminishes a person’s energy levels, sleep, and appetite, it can be difficult for the person suffering to make healthy choices.
A wife can be extremely helpful in putting together a daily routine that takes away the planning and helps her husband feel in control of their day-to-day life; even if it just means knowing that each day starts or ends with some light exercise.
8. Pick some small goalsStarting small is the key to helping someone who is depressed and overwhelmed by even the simplest task. A depressed husband may find getting out of bed in the morning a monumental task, so even this act can be acknowledged as a daily achievement. Setting some small goals and breaking them up into smaller parts can be empowering for someone struggling with depression and setting the right pace will help them gradually return to normal activities.
Depression generally makes people lose interest in socializing or hobbies they previously enjoyed, but a wife can support her husband by organizing a short outing with a good friend or even just making a weekly date to watch a movie together, to keep him from withdrawing completely.
9. Stay positive
It takes a huge amount of self-control for the wife of a depressed husband to not give in to frustration and anger and even slip into a depression of her own. She also needs support to stay positive and upbeat and would benefit from sessions with a Biblical counselor independent of her husband, where she can talk through what she is experiencing and be encouraged towards perseverance. Getting some time out is important too; either socializing with girlfriends or just recharging with a change of scenery.
10. Be aware of warning signs
Even if a person’s depression is on the milder side or seems to be improving, the closest caregiver (in this case, the wife of a depressed husband) must be aware of the warning signs of suicide. These include suicidal talk and preoccupation with thoughts of dying – getting one’s affairs in order, giving away belongings, etc.
They could also get a means to end their life (such as a stock of pills or a gun) or engage in reckless or self-destructive behavior. Any extreme mood swings or noticeable changes in personality or behavior should be treated with caution, and medical assistance sought.
A wife caring for a depressed husband will undergo extreme suffering and needs to be surrounded by a community who can care for her as well as her family. She can, however, play an instrumental role in seeing her partner through this tough time and help them to emerge as a stronger couple on the other side of depression.
Copyright Leah Elliott, 2021, All rights reserved