Five Ways to Support a Spouse with Depression

Educate Yourself

If your spouse has already been diagnosed, then you’re best to learn as much as you can about their form of depression. The American Psychiatric Association recommends observation of at least two weeks of symptoms before a diagnosis could take place. But even if your spouse only suspects depression, you can learn about the symptoms that mark its onset. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include: loss of interest in things previously passionate about; changes in weight, appetite, or sleeping habits; and general fatigue. All of these symptoms can manifest with many other health issues, but it’s good to know what depression looks like. There are also some less visible symptoms, like persistent thoughts about death and suicide, which may require swifter action. Knowing the warning signs of suicidal thoughts can save a life.

Show Positive Reinforcement

Criticizing the behavior of someone with depression can only make it worse. You can help your spouse by encouraging and celebrating healthy behavior. One example is by helping them plan and organize. Living with depression is hard enough with the listlessness and foggy brain. Help your spouse keep track of medications and appointments. If they’ve shared about activities they would enjoy doing, make plans to do them and keep the plans. And because depression can make people feel hopeless, accomplishing goals can work wonders. Set small and attainable goals for your spouse, and show them their progress. These actions show your spouse that you are remaining positive about their depression and can help them to endure.

Ask The Right Questions

While asking questions can reveal a lot about your spouse’s current mindset and needs, some questions may do more harm than good. It’s important to know what kinds of questions are helpful and which ultimately only hurt. Some helpful questions to ask your spouse include:

  • Can you help me understand how you are feeling?
  • What activities do you find enjoyable right now?
  • Would spending time with others be enjoyable right now?

Avoid asking questions that seem to judge or blame your spouse for the way they are feeling. It is possible that feelings of blame are already exacerbating their symptoms, and they need support instead of feeling more alienated. Questions you should avoid include:

  •  “Why can’t you just be happy?”
  • “Do you not appreciate me?”
  • “Is this really that big of a deal?”

These questions can drive a person with depression further into themselves, and what your spouse needs is grace and understanding. It is also vital not to make light of the condition, which is serious. Asking questions may be helpful, but you should be judicious. It is usually best to allow people with depression to express themselves in their own time and of their own accord. Often the best support is not direct. Sometimes even just being in the room with them is supportive enough.

Be Empathetic and Accessible

One of the worst things anyone can do for a person with depression is invalidate their feelings by continually trying to cheer them up. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it reflects a lack of understanding of how the disease works. Your spouse needs you to be empathetic toward their depression. One way to show empathy is to “reflect” what your spouse says. Instead of trying to come up with solutions, show your spouse that you desire to understand their depression by repeating back to them what they’ve said. For example, if your spouse says “I’m tired all the time,” you might respond with “it sounds like you’re exhausted.” This kind of reflection can help show your desire to truly grasp the way your spouse is being affected by depression.

Take Care of Yourself

Probably the most overlooked part of caring for someone with depression is yourself. It takes a lot of time and energy to help someone suffering from depression, so you need to make sure your own health is accounted for. It will only be more difficult to help your spouse if you are exhausted, unhappy, and unhealthy. Guard against this by continuing to pursue your own interests. Maintain a support system of family and friends. Set boundaries and inform your spouse about them. Some topics or times may be off-limits, and communication about this can help alleviate some of your own stress. You may even want to seek professional help for yourself, if necessary. The process of recovery can oftentimes be stressful in and of itself, and you are no good to your spouse if your own well-being isn’t accounted for.

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