You may be feeling quite helpless if your spouse is suffering from depression. There will be days when you feel overwhelmed, frustrated and confused, and no matter what you try and do to help your partner, you may feel rejected or worse still, ignored. Fear not, you are not alone. Depression is an illness which can cause isolation, have a negative effect on a relationship and leave loved ones feeling scared and helpless.
With major depression, there will be feelings of anger, sadness and hopelessness. Those affected by depression may withdraw and have a lack of interest in the things going on around them. For this reason, it’s hard to know how to help someone who is suffering from depression. Although it may not be possible to cure your spouse’s depression, what you can do is help them on their journey towards recovery.
Start by Learning
Depression is not an illness that is static. It’s not uncommon for someone who is depressed to have good days and then out of nowhere, turn into a depressed state. Depression has many symptoms that can include the following:
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Feelings of hopelessness and sadness, which can include tearfulness
- Agitation or anxiety
- Weight loss or gain related to changes in appetite
- Sleeping more or less
- Trouble concentrating, thinking and making decisions
- Physical symptoms which cannot be explained
- Outbursts of anger
- Thoughts related to death, which can include suicidal thoughts
In order to help your spouse, you need to understand depression. The above symptoms can vary from person to person and can also change over time. Although you can ask a professional for information or read about depression, the best way to understand depression is to talk to your partner, ask them open-ended questions and be an empathic listener.
Encourage Your Spouse to Seek Treatment
Many people who suffer with depression do have symptoms which can affect their daily routines: e.g. school, work and relationships, etc. However, it is not uncommon to be unable to recognize these symptoms if you suffer from depression. Many will feel that they have to get better by themselves, and do not realize that depression rarely gets better without treatment. Help your spouse to seek treatment by doing the following:
- Share your concerns with your spouse.
- Share what you have learned about depression.
- Tell them what symptoms you have noticed.
- Discuss treatment options which include psychotherapy, TMS, medication and changes to lifestyle.
- Tell them that you want to help.
Be There for your Spouse
The most important thing that you can do for your spouse is to be there for them. So, you may not have all the answers – what you can do is sit and listen to your partner. Offer them emotional support by holding their hand and respond to them with statements which offer encouragement such as:
- ‘We are in this together.’
- ‘I am here for you every step of the way.’
- ‘Tell me how I can help.’
Concentrate on Small Goals
Depression can feel overwhelming, and for someone who is severely depressed, even getting up on the morning can seem like a huge ordeal. In order to help your partner, assist them in setting up daily achievements and small goals. This will help your spouse to be able to take small steps towards returning to everyday tasks. For example, if your spouse struggles to get out of bed each day, start by helping them to wake up, and then sit up in bed. Move on to taking a shower and eating a healthy breakfast. Your spouse will need treatment, but you can start at home with being understanding and patient.
Creating a Supportive Environment at Home
First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that your spouse’s depression is not anyone fault. Although it’s not possible for you to fix it, you can help and support your partner during this tough time. Along with treatment, changes in lifestyle can have a huge impact. Depression can destroy a person’s energy as well as affect appetite and sleeping patterns. This is where you can help by:
- Encouraging Exercise: Try and exercise together, as taking part in daily exercise can help to improve mood. Aim to go for a walk or a bike ride every day.
- Eating Healthy: Ask your partner to help make decisions on what healthy meals you could eat, in order to encourage good food choices.
- Plan Things Together: A side effect of depression is not wanting to take part in normal activities. Try and make plans together, such as a weekly date night or even something simple like watching a film together.
- Support your Partner’s Treatment: If possible, try and attend your partner’s appointments with them. Treatment such as psychotherapy can be hard work emotionally, so your support will help.
- Provide Positive Reinforcement: Someone suffering from depressing may feel hopeless and therefore self-critical. It’s good to point out your spouse’s strengths and areas where improvement can be made in order to help your spouse see their progression.
- Create a Calming Environment: Try and create a schedule for each day which takes care of meals, chores and medications. A routine can help someone with depression to feel that they are in better control of their lives.
Spot Suicide Warning Signs
With depression, the risk of suicide increases. It is crucial to be able to spot the signs and be able to get medical help if needed:
- Talk about suicide
- Look out for extreme mood swings
- Feelings related to hopelessness
- Giving away possessions
- Getting affairs in order
- Being preoccupied with thoughts related to death
- Social withdrawal
- Trying to get a means to attempt suicide (i.e. hoarding pills or trying to get hold of a gun)
It’s important to always remember that a spouse with depression can be emotionally draining. It’s important to take care of yourself and make sure that you increase your own support circle during this difficult period of time.