I Have a Depressed Spouse: What Should I Do to Help?
I met Jeff my Senior year of college. We started dating quickly and we did not date for very long before we got engaged. We decided we wanted a short engagement and 6 months later we were married, we knew we loved each other, and things seemed perfect.
I had just gotten a job as a secretary at a law firm and Jeff started working construction. He would work late nights and our schedules seemed opposite for the first few years of our marriage. We did not have much time together but loved and enjoyed the time we did.After three years of inconsistent schedules and not a lot of time together we decided we should try and align our time together. I searched for a different job and in the meantime, I resigned from my position as a secretary. I should have waited until I found a different position before quitting my job, but I was so discouraged with our amount of quality time together that I acted too soon.
I applied at any job I could, but no one was hiring. Jeff became overwhelmed with our finances and started to resent me for my decision of quitting my job before communicating with him about my decision. Our communication was poor. I suppose it was always poor we just didn’t ever have to many issues before hand to realize the lack of communication in our marriage.
I began to beat myself up about my decision to quit my job and began to feel guilty and hopeless at finding work. Although I initially quit working to spend more time with Jeff, it seemed that we still weren’t spending time together even then because he was always grumpy at me and it made me want to leave the house. I began withdrawing from him and eventually stopped looking for work.
I got in a place where I stopped caring, even for myself. I stopped socializing with friends and I feel like I just fell into a hole, a very deep and dark hole. I did not understand what was happening and I didn’t have any motivation to do anything different. I slept often and spent most of the time in bed.
Jeff started asking me more about my choices and behavior and eventually, I saw the pattern I had developed over the last year. Jeff told me he thought I might be depressed. At first, I didn’t want to see it. I refused to be “Depressed.” It was such a big title and I didn’t want it to be apart of me.
It took me a while but eventually, I made an appointment to see a therapist. I have grown so much individually as well as with Jeff. My therapist encouraged me to be expressive with my emotions so I started to trust the process and through communicating my past hurts, feelings, expectations.
I started to realize what I kept buried inside and the weight of it all on my mental health, self, marriage, and relationships. I identified all the factors in our marriage, one big one being our lack of effective communication with one another. This lead to me feeling overwhelmed, shutting down, stuffing emotions and eventually depressed.
In counseling, I discovered the differences between Jeff’s and my upbringing. Our communication styles are and were completely different. My family never communicated with one another leaving everything to assumptions. Jeff’s family over-communicated and continually talked about their feelings. On the other hand, feelings made me feel uncomfortable and I hated confrontation so I just let it build and eventually the weight became too much.
I have had so much awareness about myself, both of our family backgrounds and our marital dynamic and communication styles it has helped me decrease my depression and become a happier and healthier person. I am still working on myself and Jeff is beginning to understand how I got to the place I was in through the insights I share with him. I feel like I am finally able to express what I need and feel with my husband and because of that, I feel peace.
Now, obviously, not every story of someone with depression is the same. Depression looks different in everyone and there are different levels of severity and symptoms that each individual experiences.
It is important to be mindful of the severity of your symptoms if you are experiencing depression. Seek professional mental health help especially if you feel you are in danger of harming yourself or feeling you are wanting to end your life.
If you’re thinking about ending your life, call one of the suicide hotlines: 800-SUICIDE (855-970-2097) and 800-273-TALK (866-460-0975). If you have a plan to commit suicide, go to the emergency room for immediate treatment. Please do not let your depression get to the point where you can no longer control it. You have resources and there is help!
The American Psychiatric Association describes depression as follows: Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is both common and a serious medical illness that negatively affects feelings, thinking, and behaviors. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of activities the individual once enjoyed. Depression can interfere with the ability to function in work and home settings. Depression is treatable.
Symptoms of Depression
The Diagnostic Statistical Manual states to make a diagnosis of depression the individual must experience five or more of the below symptoms for at least two consistent weeks and at least one of the symptoms should be depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. The symptoms are:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
- A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
For a diagnosis of depression, the above symptoms must be causing clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other areas. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition.
What NOT to Do if You Have a Depressed Spouse
What NOT to do when trying to show support to a spouse struggling with depression:
- Do not convey that if they prayed about it that their depression would just fade, delivering the message that only if they had more faith they would not be struggling.
Depression changes your spouse and your spouse may feel like they do not have control over their mood, they may often not know why they are sad and so communicating to them that they have nothing to be sad about may make them feel guilty for feeling down. Encourage your spouse to practice healthy coping skills and communicate with you about what is helpful.
- Do not make them feel guilty for how they feel or how they are affecting you or others.
As stated above, your spouse may not understand why they are experiencing depression due to the fact that they cannot identify what they are down about. Your spouse may feel powerless and hopeless about things being different for them. Encourage your spouse and do not blame them for their depression. Trust me-they would not choose it either.
- Do not allow them to continue to isolate because they do not feel like getting out of bed or being social. This creates a negative repetitive cycle that gets harder and harder to break with time.
Your spouse will lack motivation, may oversleep, may have an increased or decreased appetite, and will start to pull themselves from social settings due to their mood and the amount of energy socialization takes from them. Be understanding of these feelings but also encourage them to set social goals, even if it is a phone call or getting out of the house for one item at the store. It helps.
What to Do if You Have a Depressed Spouse
- Become educated on what depression is and the symptoms people experience.
Sympathize with your spouse, put yourself in his/her shoes, become patient through this mental health journey and pray.
- Encourage your spouse to make small goals towards being mentally healthy.
There are many areas of being mentally healthy: Social, physical, spiritual, emotional. Discuss what areas your spouse feels he/she is struggling in and what would be helpful that you, her or both of you could do to improve this/these areas.
- Encourage spouse to seek professional help and offer to walk along side them if they need you too.
This could mean making the appointment for them, doing the research of finding a therapist, making an appointment with a psychiatrist. Going to the first session or all sessions. Ask what your spouse needs and if your spouse is unable to answer become proactive.
- Create a supportive home environment.
Know your spouses love language and start loving them in their language. Provide verbal and physical help to make your spouse’s day easier. Pray with and for your spouse. Offer to read a book with your spouse about their mental health, engage in deep communication with your spouse. Do as much as you can to alleviate a chaotic home environment.
- Ask how you can help alleviate stress from their daily routine
This one is pretty self explanatory and direct. Some spouses will not be able to pinpoint their needs or communicate them. In this scenario be observant of the things that are not getting done in the house and take charge.
- Pray for them.
Pray for your spouse’s mental health, pray for direction in your family, for your marriage. Pray for an understanding, patient, and loving heart. Pray for God to open your eyes to the things in your behavior and heart that cause your spouse to feel down and do not only encourage your spouse to change but work on yourself also.
- Encourage a positive social support system.
Friendships and social connection are important. We do not always realize the positive mental health effects spending time with others can have on our lives. People with depression are constantly feeling alone, misunderstood, hopeless, and helpless so by surrounding themselves with people they know, they are not alone.
- Encourage communication among your spouse.
Your spouse may not know where to begin in communicating and that is ok. Guide your spouse by asking direct questions. If you find you are not getting anywhere in understanding or being able to communicate seek out a mental health professional to walk side by side with you both to help you understand each other’s needs more and more.
- Get outside with your spouse and become more physically active.
People who struggle with depression lack the chemical serotonin in their brains. When individuals are physically active serotonin is released. Physical activity boost mood.
- Know the warning signs of suicidal ideation.
Be aware of the signs and seek help immediately when you feel your spouse is exhibiting any of them.
“The enemy is the illness and not the spouse with depression,” Baer told LiveScience. This statement is important to remember and apply to your daily life during the mental struggle of fighting depression. Understanding the difference between your spouse and their depression is vital in preserving a healthy outlook while your spouse is struggling mentally.
Christian Counseling for Depression
Being able to separate depression from your spouse and understand that your spouse is not intentionally trying to cause hurt is not easy, nor is it an easy task for them to simply feel happy or see the positives and all-of-a-sudden feel joy again. Realizing that this was not your spouse’s choice and showing compassion towards them can help you be a better and healthier support system during the shadows and valleys. Cling to hope, God, and each other.
If you need some additional support or a third party to help you walk through this valley as you seek the light of hope, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors listed in the counselor directory above. We would be happy to help.
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6
Leah Elliot, copyright 2019, all rights reserved