How to Help Your Spouse or Partner with Depression
Do you know how to help a depressed spouse? Sometimes it can feel like you can’t do or say anything right, and you may wonder why your partner isn’t getting better. Depression is complicated, however, and it can affect people in different ways. While the majority of people feel better within a few months of seeking depression treatment, others can try a whole raft of solutions before they find the right treatment, so loving someone with depression requires a high level of patience and understanding. To help make that road a little smoother, here are some tips on how to help a depressed spouse or partner with depression.
How to Help a Depressed Spouse: What to Do
You may not know how to help a depressed spouse or partner or if your efforts will even pay off. The small things you do and say can make a big difference to someone with depression, however. Here are some tips to help you get it right:
- Understand your partner’s triggers: Every depressed person has good days and bad days, and studies show that 50% of people who recover from depression go on to have at least one more depressive episode. Understanding how to help a depressed spouse means understanding their triggers and depression symptoms. It’s important to be aware of the signs that your spouse or partner is slipping into depression so that you can encourage them to seek help before it becomes severe.
- Provide practical support: People with depression often struggle to keep up to day-to-day tasks such as cooking or cleaning the house. Helping a spouse with depression means providing as much practical support as you can and never making your partner feel guilty.
- Offer words of encouragement: Tell your partner that you believe in them, that you think they’re strong for dealing with this illness. Make sure they know that your support is unconditional, however firmly their depression takes hold.
- Give your partner space: Depression is exhausting, and your partner may be easily overwhelmed. Sometimes, the best way to help a depressed spouse is to respect their need for space and don’t take it personally. Let them pull back when they need to but make sure they know you’re there when you need them.
- Offer loving reminders: People who are depressed often feel like they are a burden on their loved ones. This can lead to thoughts of everyone being better off without them, and even suicidal thoughts. If your partner shares these feelings with you, don’t undermine or minimize them. These negative thoughts may be caused by depression, but they feel incredibly real to those affected.
- Set boundaries: If you want to help a partner with depression, you also need to be prepared to help yourself. Self-care is vital when you’re taking care of someone else, so try to be open with your partner about what you can and cannot do to help.
- Encourage pleasurable activities: Try to encourage your spouse to do one thing every day that brings them even the smallest amount of pleasure. This might be journaling, lighting a special candle or going for a walk. Never bully or offer advice, however. If your partner doesn’t want to do something, accept that they are not feeling well enough that day and don’t push it.
- Remind them that there are places to get help: Ultimately, you are just one person, and you can’t make your partner better. Remind your spouse of all the places they can turn to for help and make getting that help as easy as possible for them. You might leave the number for a mental health hotline next to the phone, for instance, or offer to drive them to see a doctor.
Helping a Spouse with Depression: What NOT to Do
Understanding how to help a depressed spouse is also about knowing what NOT to do. Here are some words and behaviors to avoid:
- Don’t tell your partner to think positive: Telling your partner to "look on the bright side" doesn’t help them feel better. Neither does reminding them they have it better than other people. Depression is a mental illness. It's not something the person can help or just "get over."
- Don’t tell your partner what they “should” do: While advice may come from a good place, it is often unwelcome when someone is experiencing depression. If you want to help, offer invitations such as, “Do you want to come out for a walk with me?” or “Maybe we could join a yoga class together?” and accept your partner’s right to decline, however frustrating that might be.
- Don’t blame yourself: You can't single-handedly cause someone's depression, just as you can't cure it. What's more, you won't be able to help your spouse with depression if you're always turning the problem inward and blaming yourself.
Ultimately, there is only so much you can do to help a depressed spouse or partner with depression. Depression is highly treatable, but it is not your job to treat it. One of the best things you can do if you’re wondering how to help a depressed spouse is to encourage an open dialogue. Your partner needs to feel like they can open up to you, however awful they’re feeling, and that they won’t push you away.
If you’re concerned about someone with depression, you can call the NAMI helpline at (800)-950-6264 for advice and support. If you believe your partner is acutely suicidal, The Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or contact the emergency services immediately.
Smith, E. (2022, January 3). How to Help Your Spouse or Partner with Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/relationships/how-to-help-your-spouse-or-partner-with-depression