How to Help a Depressed Spouse
Most of us have a loved one (or several) who are affected by depression. It’s actually quite common. But when mental illness affects a close relationship, it’s hard to know what to do – especially when it’s within your marriage. That’s why we’ve put together this guide on how to help a depressed spouse. This will help both you and your spouse get through a difficult time.
Symptoms of Depression
Just like any other physical or mental condition, depression comes with its own set of symptoms. And these symptoms affect different areas of living.
It should be noted that men and women do experience depression symptoms in slightly different ways. But overall, there are some generalized symptoms that common across genders and types of depression.
- loss of interest in hobbies, work, etc.
- excessive sadness
- sleeplessness or insomnia
- restless sleep
- waking up unusually early
- excessive sleeping
- general fatigue
- excessive crying
- social isolation
- lack of concentration
- ruminating thoughts
- thoughts of suicide
- slowness in thinking or activity
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- weight gain
- excessive eating
- working too much
- drug or alcohol abuse
- issues with digestive health
- excessive muscles tension
NOTE: this list of symptoms is not intended to provide a medical or psychiatric diagnosis. It may help send you on the right track. But if you think you or your spouse is affected by depression, you should seek a professional opinion. Above all, seek medical attention.
Most Common Types of Depression
Most people think that there’s only one kind of depression. But that’s actually not true.
There are several different types of depression – 9 to be exact. Each of them have differences that are noticeable, while they still retain the same basic symptoms of depression.
Reading this may help you identify which kind of depression is affecting your spouse (although you should seek a professional diagnosis to know for sure).
1) Major Depression
This condition is the most common type of depression, and it affects about 7% of adults in the United States.
Major depression occurs for more than two weeks, and it usually recurs throughout the affected person’s life in episodes. Symptoms for major depression include changes in sleeping and eating habits, feelings of guilt, or thoughts of suicide.
This condition can be treated, and should be handled by a qualified professional. Major depression is often treated with medication and talk therapy.
2) Persistent Depressive Disorder
Persistent Depressive Disorder is less severe than major depression, but is still serious. This kind of depression usually lasts for a long period of time – a year or more.
It causes a ‘low’ mood over a long period. This means that the person affected can function, but not at their best.
Because persistent depressive disorder is not severe, many people respond well to talk therapy.
3) Bipolar Disorder
Most people have heard of bipolar disorder. But, what they don’t realize is that it is also one type of depression.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by its emotional ‘ups’ and ‘downs’. In other words, there are times when the affected person might experience extreme ‘highs’, like bursts of energy, impulsive decisions, and excitement.
In contrast, the ‘highs’ are often followed by extreme ‘lows’, where they feel typical, yet extreme depression symptoms. Bipolar disorder should be treated by a mental health professional.
4) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Ever heard of the winter woes? Then you already know when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is.
In long periods of dreary weather, some people find themselves helplessly depressed. Symptoms are typical with increased irritability, fatigue, and weight gain.
And it’s all because there’s no natural light! Good treatment options include light therapy, or bundling up and getting outside!
5) Psychotic Depression
Psychosis (loss of reality) is not often associated with depression. However, they can sometimes go together.
This is a very serious condition, where symptoms of psychosis and depression are blended. For example, a person with psychotic depression may be catatonic, not speak at all, and never leave their bed.
Psychotic Depression is almost always treated with medication, supervised by a psychiatrist.
6) Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression affects women after the birth of a baby. About 85% of all women experience it. But for 15% of those women, sadness lingers for weeks or months after the baby is born.
Symptoms include extreme sadness, anxiety, fatigue, loneliness, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, fears about hurting the baby, and feelings of disconnect from the child.
7) Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
This is a very ‘acute’ condition. To clarify, that means its very temporary. PMDD affects some women during the second part of their menstrual cycle. This condition is hormonally linked.
Most women experience this condition to some degree, although it is very mild. Because of that, it is very easy to treat.
8) ‘Situational’ Depression
As its name might suggest, this type of depression is triggered by a troubling situation. This could be the loss of a loved one, losing your job, a divorce, or some other trauma-inducing event.
This type of depression is very common. Its affects are often severe, but temporary. When the event is over and enough time has passed, the person affected can usually resume normal life.
9) Atypical Depression
Despite its name, atypical depression is quite common. In fact, it is the most common type of depression and is often missed by doctors.
Oversleeping and overeating are the main symptoms of this type of depression. Additionally, these people can be slow to ‘get happy’ even when something good happens.
Talk therapy helps treat this condition very well.
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Causes of Depression
Nailing down a root cause of depression is difficult. That’s because depression is usually multi-faceted. But there are a few common things that have an impact:
Depression can run in some families. If you know that your spouse’s family has a history of depression, they may be at slightly higher risk of being affected. But that doesn’t mean they will be for sure. For example, some people with a family history don’t have it at all. On the other hand, some people with no family history of depression still get it.
Difficult life events can trigger depression. If your spouse has recently been through a tough time, like a being laid off from work, or losing a parent, they may be more likely to be depressed.
Unfortunately, there are people who experienced extremely troubling things during childhood. If this is your spouse, they could be more susceptible to depression. If you think they haven’t fully processed these events, it could cause them to be depressed.
Other medical conditions
Sometimes people with other medical conditions are more likely to have depression. For example, this includes conditions like drug addiction, ADHD, and chronic pain.
How Depression Can Affect Marriage
Depression is obviously hard for the person that is depressed. But it can also be really hard for the spouse as well.
You might try everything you can think of to make them happy. Maybe you feel sad that you can’t help them. Perhaps you even feel frustrated that, despite your efforts, your spouse isn’t receptive to your help.
Over time, this can wear you down. And even though you love your spouse, they just don’t seem like themselves. At last, you feel like you’re losing them. You’re growing apart and you feel completely alone.
Here’s the good news: most depression is episodic. This means that it doesn’t last forever. And with the right tools, you can help a depressed spouse get happy again.
Tips to Help a Depressed Spouse
Knowing how to help a depressed spouse is one of the hardest parts of marriage. Both partners feel helpless. And sometimes, one partner’s depression can be a cause of depression for the other.
These are tried-and-true methods for helping a spouse with depression. It will help both of you.
1) Learn about depression
One of the best things you can do to help a depressed spouse is to learn about the condition. Knowledge is power, as they say!
The more you know about the condition, the better equipped you’ll be to provide the help your spouse needs. Learning about the symptoms of depression, and the warning signs of suicide can help avoid a possible tragedy.
2) Encourage your spouse to open up to you, but don’t be pushy
People with depression often feel lonely and isolated because no one understands them. Therefore, they don’t feel comfortable sharing their feelings and they bottle everything up (men often have a hard time sharing their feelings).
Let your spouse know you’re ready to listen when they’re ready to talk. You’ll be a shoulder to cry whenever they need one. Let them know you are willing and able to help however they need.
Giving these verbal reminders often can make a big impact.
3) Create a healthy environment at home
People who are depressed often lack motivation to take care of themselves. During a hard time, they might need a little help. Luckily, you’re the best person to give them help.
Encourage them to do daily self-care tasks. Regular bathing, eating healthy food, and sleep the right amount can go a long way. Encourage them to exercise or socialize with people they love. It helps a lot.
4) Help them set small goals
People with depression usually feel daunted by pretty mundane tasks. They’re emotional state of being makes daily tasks extremely difficult to accomplish.
You can help by creating a small checklist of things to get done. Setting small goals day-by-day, or even hour-by-hour can help keep healthy forward movement.
5) Support each other
The trick with this one is to stay on the same team. (That’s one of my all-time favorite pieces of marriage advice). Depression is hard for everyone involved.
It’s important to remember, that even though you both might be unhappy and frustrated, that you love each other and you’re there to support each other.
6) Encourage treatment
As much as you might feel like you can handle a spouse’s depression on your own, it’s always a good idea to seek professional treatment. A therapist can help identify the type of depression and prescribe the right treatment.
Your spouse might be resistant to therapy. So, know that you can’t force them into treatment. All you can do is encourage them and support them in their choices.
If or when your spouse does choose to open up to you emotionally, listen. Let them talk, be receptive and empathetic. Be careful not to chastise, blame, or add guilt.
Your spouse is probably already overwhelmed with negative feelings – they don’t need anymore. What they need most is love. And the best way to show that is to listen.
8) Know that it’s not your fault
As the person who’s closest to the situation, you may wonder if your spouse’s depression is your fault. The answer is NO.
Depression happens for many reasons. Usually there are compounding events that lead to an episode of depression. When you worry and get bogged down with thinking that it’s your fault you’re not able to adequately take care of your spouse in need.
9) Seek outside support for yourself
Helping a depressed spouse is no easy task. They need a lot of support. But, so do you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or even depressed in helping a depressed spouse, it’s okay to seek the support of family, friends, or a therapist.
It’s important to know who you can reach out to at this time. Although it may be tempting to seek support from your spouse, they may not be able to help you at this time. That’s when it’s time to seek support from your outside circles.
10) Take care of yourself
If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else. Caring for a depressed spouse requires a lot of work and sacrifice. But there does come a point when it’s too much.
Make sure you’re eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep, and socializing with other people. It will help you retain balance in your life as your help your depressed spouse.