Most of us get a little blue sometimes about life or things happening around us. Such feelings of sadness are normal, and they are usually temporary, and don’t indicate major depression.
But what if your spouse is sad for weeks on end and nothing seems to help? Or their behavior changes and you feel like you are living with a stranger?
Your spouse may be dealing with a significant mental health issue like major depression.
Here are some ways you can help.
Mental health conditions are complex. So make use of books and online resources. And talk with your doctor or a mental health professional. In short, educate yourself to better understand what your spouse may be experiencing.
Katie Hurley, LCSW, offers this perspective:
“The mood in major depression is often described as sad, hopeless, discouraged, or feeling down, but it can also include persistent anger. Angry outbursts and blaming others is common. Social withdrawal and lack of interest or pleasure are common among depressed people. Family members notice that depressed people seem not to care about finding joy anymore.”
People experiencing significant depression may have trouble sleeping, or sleep too much. They may gain or lose weight. They may be extremely tired or have trouble concentrating. And people experiencing depression can have good days, maybe several in a row, then lapse back into deep sadness, anxiety or agitation. As you might imagine, this cycle can be frustrating and hard to understand, both for the person experiencing depression and for the spouse or loved one watching them suffer.
Often, people feel guilty for being depressed. They may not understand why they can’t “snap out of it” and get on with life. And so they may be afraid to burden anyone else with what they are feeling.
That’s why it’s important to:
- Remind your spouse how important they are to you. Tell them how much you love them.
- Assure your spouse of your presence. Say things like, “You are not alone. We are going to get through this together.”
- Ask questions. Give your spouse time and space to talk. Sit and listen without judgement.
But if symptoms persist and keep your spouse from normal daily activities, share your concerns and encourage them to consider professional treatment.
Then depending on the response, you might offer to help them look for a qualified counselor, make appointments, or arrange transportation.
If your spouse is not ready to seek treatment, you might suggest they visit with a pastor, or spend time with a mature Christian friend who can offer godly counsel and support.
Do what you can.
While there is no simple “fix” for depression, there are many ways to support your spouse in this difficult season. Here are some ideas.
- Reduce the stress level at home as much as possible.
- Pray for your spouse and pray with your spouse.
- Encourage healthy eating habits.
- Take a walk, bike ride or light hike with your spouse for exercise.
- Plan simple, low stress dates they can look forward to.
- Give lots of positive reinforcement.
Keep your expectations in check and help your spouse break tasks into small, measurable goals. Because for someone struggling to get out of bed, getting up, taking a shower, and eating a healthy meal may be a big win for the day. So acknowledge that win.
Finally, take care of yourself.
Because when one person is experiencing depression, it affects those around them. So give attention to your own physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. And make sure you have a good support system in place.
At some point you may want or need to consider getting help for your relationship. Mental health issues can feel overwhelming for both you and your spouse. And something like depression can take a toll on your marriage. When the time is right, a marriage course or even a more intensive workshop may provide the tools to guide you toward a stronger, healthier marriage. And this, in turn, can enhance your well-being as individuals.
If your spouse suddenly withdraws, has significant mood swings, seems preoccupied with death, overwhelmed by hopelessness or talks about suicide, get help immediately. Call the National Suicide Hotline at: 800-273-8255. Learn more about signs and symptoms, and how to prevent suicide here.