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How to Help Your Spouse Recognize and Deal with Their Depression

Updated on June 5, 2018
denise.w.anderson profile image

Denise has struggled with mental illness most of her life. She also has family members with mental illness. She speaks from experience.

When one spouse is depressed, both are affected in all areas of life.
When one spouse is depressed, both are affected in all areas of life. | Source

Depression is a killer. It is one of the most common debilitating conditions known to the human race and ruins relationships, families, and jobs. Having a loved one that is depressed leaves chores undone, love unexpressed, and expectations unfulfilled. Know the signs, help your spouse recognize what is happening, get the medical attention that your spouse needs, and keep connected with people who can help you stay mentally healthy. You will be glad you did!

Know the signs

Depression manifests itself differently in each person, however; there are patterns of behavior that indicate a person is experiencing feelings of:

  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Loneliness

A person who is depressed has nothing to look forward to. The thought patterns that are present leave them with the inability to help themselves or to see past their own current situation. They may seem to be non-caring, irritable, moody, and frequently frustrated. They often see themselves as a victim of circumstance, unable to change anything, including their own or anyone else's behavior.

Be careful. It is easy to get sucked into their irrational thinking patterns. You may find that you are examining your own life to see if you have done something to cause the problem. You have not. It is a combination of physical, mental, genetic, and circumstantial factors that have come together at this given moment, and your loved one is powerless to change them.

Help your spouse recognize what is happening

Your spouse may drop hints that tell you how they are feeling and why. Such statements as:

  • "I can't do anything right."
  • "Nobody cares about me."
  • "You and the kids would be better off without me."
  • "I just don't know how much longer I will last."
  • "I feel like a failure."
  • "They hate me."
  • "I never have enough time to get everything done."
  • "I can't do it any more."

Notice that each of these statements has words that are printed in bold. These words give you an indication of the irrational nature of the thoughts that your spouse is having. When these thoughts are expressed, do not deny them or get angry at your spouse for saying them. Remember that they are in an irrational state of mind, and cannot respond to reason.

It is better, to take the statement one step further, responding with a statement that is even more irrational. For example:

Spouse: "I can't do anything right."

You: "Yea, you married me, that must have been the worst mistake you ever made!"

The shock factor of your statement may make your spouse say, "Wait a minute, this isn't all about me," and they will be able to see the fallacy of what they have just said. If they agree with you, that is a sign that they are steeped in the irrational thought patterns and need help. Here is another example:

Spouse: "Nobody cares about me."

You: "I suppose I'm nobody, then."

Again, the purpose of your response is to help them see the irrationality of what they are saying or thinking. Your statement may give them a start, and jar them back into reality. If there is no response, or if they agree with you, and continue speaking as if they did not even hear you, that is further indication that help is needed.

Take the time to write down what you notice about your spouse and compose a letter to them telling them your concerns. If they are sleeping longer than usual, eating much more or less, ignoring pleas from loved ones for attention, refusing to answer the telephone or door, isolating themselves from the rest of the family or close friends, turning a cold shoulder to affection, or not taking care of their own personal hygiene, these are all signs that they are depressed.

Give yourself a time line of two weeks. If the symptoms persist or get worse during that time, make arrangements to have your spouse see a doctor. NOTE: if at any time, your spouse speaks of death, harming themselves or someone else, get help immediately. Do not wait!

The best place to start is with your own general practitioner. Go with your spouse to the appointment.
The best place to start is with your own general practitioner. Go with your spouse to the appointment. | Source

Get needed medical attention

The best place to start is with your own general practitioner. Schedule a complete physical for your spouse with you present. If your spouse is reluctant, arrange with your spouse's employer for a time that would be best for them to be gone. Set up the appointment, and pick your spouse up at work. It may mean things will be rocky in your relationship for a while, but remember, the depression has already made it so.

See that all of your spouse's major body systems are functioning properly. Depression can be the result of gland system issues, hormonal imbalance, chronic pain, low grade infections, blood sugar issues, and many other ills. Have a list of questions and concerns to discuss with the doctor. Once you are sure that all is well, then ask for recommendations.

Your physician knows you best. He or she can help you to determine a proper course of action. If the problem appears to be the result of extra stress at work, or pressing family issues that are only temporary, it may be that a simple anti-depressant prescription will do to get over the hump. If it is a recurring problem that has a long history, it may be necessary to obtain a referral for mental health treatment.

Physician to physician referrals are the best way to get in to see a mental health professional. If your spouse is in danger of harming him or her self or others, your physician can order hospitalization. If the threat of harm is not evident, your primary care physician can administer your medications, then refer you to a psychologist or counselor for therapy. It may be that your physician will require you to see a psychiatrist for medication monitoring and follow-up.

Staying connected to a support group outside of your family will help you keep your perspective.
Staying connected to a support group outside of your family will help you keep your perspective. | Source

Stay mentally healthy yourself

While your spouse is receiving treatment for their depression, it is helpful for you to understand and recognize the irrational thinking patterns that your spouse may be using. As you do so, you will be able to keep yourself from using the same thought patterns, and enabling their feelings. For example:

Spouse: "My boss hates me. I know he plans to fire me."

You: "How do you know that your boss hates you? Did he tell you?"

Spouse: "No. I know he does by how he talks to me."

You: "You mean the tone of the voice he uses?"

Spouse: "No. I know by how I feel when he talks to me."

You: "That sounds like an assumption to me."

The objective in having these types of conversations is to help your spouse recognize the irrational thinking patterns and give them a name for it. As you help your spouse to identify his or her feelings, and the thought patterns that are leading to them, you will be able to keep yourself from having similar issues. Here is another example:

Spouse: "Those guys at work are idiots!"

You: "You don't like the people you are working with."

Spouse: "No! They treat me like a jerk! I can't stand them!"

You: "You sound frustrated."

Spouse: "They think I don't know anything!"

You: "They treat you poorly."

Spouse: "I just want to line them up and shoot them all!"

You: "It sounds like you don't care what happens to them. That's dangerous."

The irrational thought patterns that your spouse is having lead to feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, loneliness, and helplessness. These are a dangerous combination of feelings, as they may lead to suicidal thoughts and ideations. Recognize them for what they are, the signs that tell you of the depression that is present. It may be necessary for you to see a counselor or therapist yourself to keep from falling into a depression as well.

Keep in close contact with friends and family. Talk to them about what is happening with your spouse. Ask them to help you watch for the signs and to support you in getting medical assistance. Let them know the outcome of medical appointments, medications that are prescribed, and recommended courses of action. Your connections with your own support group will help you weather the storm that will be present until the depression passes.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Denise W Anderson


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