Depression is like a dark cloud that lingers, descending on your marriage and home. Unlike weather that changes from day to day, depression can take months to improve. And sometimes it can take even longer.
So if you have a spouse who struggles with depression, living with them can leave you drained and discouraged. But thankfully, there’s hope!
Here are six steps you can take to support a spouse living with depression:
1. Watch for symptoms
Since depression affects everyone differently, watch to see if your spouse exhibits any of the signs and symptoms linked to depression. Research suggests that women are twice as likely as men to struggle with depression. Men, on the other hand, tend to stuff their emotions down or ignore them altogether. As a result, men are less likely to get help than women and are sometimes underdiagnosed.
Symptoms of depression may include:
- Persistent sadness
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Moodiness, irritability, or agitation
- Low self-esteem
- Unexplained aches or pains
- Recurring thoughts of suicide
If you or your spouse have been experiencing any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, check with your doctor.
2. Encourage them to get help
Perhaps it’s difficult for your spouse to seek professional help because they were taught Christians shouldn’t struggle with it. Or maybe it’s hard for them to think of medication as a way to treat their depression. Don’t allow stigmas and misconceptions to prevent your spouse from getting help. Instead, gently encourage them to get diagnosed by a psychiatrist or licensed counselor who is experienced in treating depression.
Perhaps you can say something like, “I love you, but I hate to see you suffer. Why don’t we go together to a counselor and see what steps we can take?”
3. Create an action plan
Ask your spouse if you can go with them to meet with their psychiatrist or counselor. Then work with their therapist to develop some tools you can incorporate into your daily lives to help improve your spouse’s depression. Usually, your spouse can greatly improve—if not, almost overcome—from depression through medication, diet, exercise, counseling, reading scripture, prayer, and close relationships. Depression is an ongoing battle; the key is for your spouse to continue with an action plan for as long as necessary.
4. Stay connected to others
We all need community. Even though your spouse may have stopped saying yes to social engagements, this doesn’t mean you have to. If you get invited to go to dinner with a friend or family member, say yes and go alone even if your significant other stays at home.
Even better, plan a camping trip or weekend getaway with your closest friends. However, here’s one word of caution: Don’t develop close friendships with someone of the opposite sex! When you do surround yourself with safe people who care about you and are there for you, you don’t have to look to your spouse to meet all of your needs.
5. Love them unconditionally
Are you tempted to withdraw from your spouse? Don’t! After all, your spouse needs you now more than ever. Tell your spouse you love them often, and let them know you’re on their side. Show them you’ll be there for them no matter what; even if they don’t reciprocate it, they can feel it!
Here are some specific ways to express your love:
- Write a note or love letter
- Cook their favorite meal
- Get away for the weekend
- Spend time doing their favorite activity
- Take a walk together
- Give them a massage
- Compliment them in front of others
6. Be patient and continue to persevere
Expect a certain amount of trial and error involved in your spouse getting help for depression. Keep in mind, though, a medication that works well for some might not work for your spouse. If a medication, or something else, doesn’t work for your spouse, let the doctor or therapist know.
Whatever you do, persevere and don’t give up! God knows your pain. And the darkness will eventually begin to lift, as Job 11:17 says:
Your life will be brighter than the noonday.
Even darkness will be as bright as morning.
Would you like to know more about how to help someone living with depression? Order your copy of Understanding and Loving a Person with Depression, by Steve Arterburn and Brenda Hunter.