It’s another morning where you are getting ready for work, but your husband is still in bed with the covers pulled over his head. He’s been listless like this for a couple of weeks, barely able to function most mornings, and when he gets home from work he is frequently exhausted, which means he is easily irritated by the most minor things. He doesn’t eat like he used to; in fact, he’s lost interest in many of the things that he used to enjoy. He says he feels sad, and you feel the same—you miss the man you married, and you are wondering if he will ever come back.
Living through a major depressive episode is grueling—for both the person with the disorder and his spouse. As depression takes its toll on your husband’s well-being, you may also feel depleted, angry, frustrated and hopeless, just like he does. When your husband is depressed, it completely throws the balance and routines of your relationship off-kilter. You both may be struggling—while your husband is working through his depression, you are probably going into overdrive to compensate for his disengagement. This can be profoundly tiring for you; you love your husband and want to help him feel better, but often you feel despair because you don’t know what to do.
However, it is important to stand strong. There are ways you can help your depressed husband, but before you do that, you need to understand what depression is and how it can affect your husband. With knowledge of the mental health disorder, you will be better able to empathize with your husband and help him make more informed choices about his treatment options.
Men and Depression
Traditionally, it may seem harder to get a man to consider treatment for depression because men aren’t as willing to talk about this area of their lives, in comparison to women. Because your husband may not want to discuss with you the inner turmoil he is grappling with, he is at risk for not getting the treatment he needs. This is when you, as his spouse, should be attuned to the symptoms of depression so you can fully comprehend the depth of the problem.
Signals indicating depression can include:
- Anger/irritability, sometimes to the point of aggression.
- Insomnia or other sleep-related issues.
- Lack of interest in family, work, or hobbies.
- Rapid heart rate or a tightness in the chest.
- Problems digesting food.
- Isolating from friends and family.
- Indulging in high-risk behavior.
- Feelings of emptiness or sadness.
- Fluctuations in normal eating patterns.
- Difficulty with libido and sexual performance.
- Inability to focus or remember things.
- Inability to uphold daily commitments and responsibilities.
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
Generally, a diagnosis of depression can’t be considered unless the man has been experiencing these symptoms nearly every day for a period of at least two weeks. That is when a physician will want to talk with your husband and perform an exam to get more background information and to rule out any potential medical conditions that could be causing the depressive symptoms.
There are different types of depression that your husband’s physician may consider when he makes his diagnosis. Major depressive disorder can destabilize a person’s regular life and prevent him from carrying out even the most basic daily functions. Psychotic depression is accompanied by delusions or hallucinations. If your husband’s depression seems to be triggered by lack of sunlight or change of seasons, he may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. There are also two forms of depression that aren’t quite as intense as the others: minor depression, where symptoms aren’t as severe as major depressive disorder, and persistent depressive disorder/dysthymia, which exhibits mellower signs of depression than the other stages, but this one can last for years.
Another sign that could indicate your husband is depressed is a noticeable uptick in alcohol consumption. As a way of coping with the major depressive disorder, men might be tempted to “numb” themselves with alcohol, or with illegal drugs. While the resulting high may be a temporary escape, the crash that comes afterward will only make things worse. If you notice that your husband has started to drink more, or is disappearing from the house at all hours and lying about his whereabouts, he may be starting down a perilous path. The more a substance is used and abused, the more your husband will grow tolerant of it, which means he will continue to abuse substances in greater amounts and with more frequency in order to get high. This increased drug use can lead to dependence, where your husband may not think he can get through the day without drinking or taking drugs. Plus, the side effects and withdrawal symptoms of several drugs include depression, which can be debilitating for your husband if he is already in the midst of a major depressive disorder. This is why it is critical to try and help your husband, which may include talking about treatment options.
Ways to Help Your Husband During His Depression
Depression doesn’t necessarily have a quick fix. There are varied factors that can trigger a depressive episode (such as family history, life stress or chronic illness), and it can take time to get at the root issues underneath the depression. That doesn’t mean your husband will never return to his former way of life. With a commitment to treatment, and a supportive spouse, he can get the self-awareness, tools and coping mechanisms he needs to work through a depressive episode.
It’s key that you try to keep your language as neutral as possible when discussing your husband’s current mental and emotional state. You can calmly point out what you have been observing, using “I” language: “I’ve noticed that you are tossing and turning in the middle of the night more than usual.” It’s a way to start a dialogue about the changes you have seen in him lately.
You can also suggest he see his doctor to talk about his symptoms. Once any underlying medical issues have been ruled out, your physician may be able to make a referral for a visit with a mental health professional.
If he is willing to discuss his mental health, you can ask how involved he’d like you to be in the process. That could mean going with him to the appointment as a show of support or helping him come up with topics to discuss with the mental health professional.
Through it all, it’s imperative that you let your husband know that you are motivated to help him because of the love you two share. When you are firmly in his corner, he will be able to go out and fight his bout with depression. Just remember that you are in it for the long haul, as transitioning out of a depressive episode can take time.
You can also encourage your husband to look into a treatment facility that works with depressed patients. This can be especially important if your husband does have a co-occurring substance abuse problem—both issues will need to be addressed equally, and you need a facility with expertise in these kinds of dual-diagnosis treatment plans.
Depression treatment can entail a combination of medication management and therapy. Support his work in this regard, and also keep an eye on him to make sure he is going to his appointments and that there aren’t any side effects from his medications. As he continues to make progress, you can try to begin re-introducing the activities and hobbies he used to enjoy. You may also want to ensure that he finds a support group with members who have also dealt with depression and that he follows healthy living habits (eating well, exercising and getting adequate sleep). And of course, if your husband ever exhibits suicidal tendencies, contact 911 or go to the emergency room, and get in touch with your husband’s therapist. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
At Casa Palmera, we want your husband to feel better and for your marriage to return to more solid ground. We have excellent resources and comprehensive services when it comes to treating depression, and we are ready to help your husband—and help you. Contact us today to learn more and take the first step towards a potentially brighter future.