5 ways to help your life partner with depression

Depression is a complex illness and there’s no one-size-fits all approach, but these tips should help.

According to statistics, more women are diagnosed with depression than men. However, it is likely that the mental illness affects just as many men in reality, but they are less likely to admit that they have a problem and seek help for it.

Symptoms of depression

If you notice your husband exhibiting any or all of the following symptoms most days or every day for three or more weeks then it is likely that he is suffering with depression:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Anger and irritability
  • A loss of interest in daily activities
  • Lethargy and loss of energy
  • Changes in appetite or drastic weight loss/gain
  • Restlessness and trouble concentrating on things
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

If you suspect that your husband is suffering from depression it is important that you gently encourage him to seek help from a doctor, but don’t put any undue pressure on him. A formal diagnosis will typically lead to a course of anti-depression medication, followed by cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling. However, there are also a number of ways in which you can help your husband through his depression too…

  1. Love them unconditionally: When you got married you vowed to love one another in sickness and in health. Depression is a mental illness which falls under this remit; and as hard as it may be to show your spouse love when they’re having a bad day and taking it out on you, it is exactly what they need. However you would normally show your husband that you love him, whether it’s putting a note in with his packed lunch, sending him a text/email, or cooking him a nice meal in the evening, ensure that you continue to do these things so that they feel loved, even when they’re unable to reciprocate it.
  2. Be their safe haven: You know your husband better than anyone else does, and this intimate closeness can work to your advantage as well as your disadvantage. Being the closest person to him means that your husband is likely to take out his frustration on you, and he may say some hurtful words. However, he needs you to be the one who receives the brunt of this behaviour as you are the one person who loves him enough to let him ride it out. Whether he needs to shout, cry, or just hug in silence for a while, be that safe haven that he needs.
  3. Understand when to give them space: Sometimes your husband may tell you that he wants space, but what he’s actually trying to say is that he needs you. Sometimes he may genuinely want some space to be alone with his thoughts or hobbies for a while. When he tells you that he wants some space, try taking hold of his hands, looking him in the eye and asking him if that’s what he truly wants. The physical connection of holding his hands shows him that you are willing to sit through this with him, but also prepared to leave him alone for a while until he’s ready for company again.
  4. Create an action plan: On a day when your husband is feeling calm and happy, sit down together and discuss an action plan for dealing with his low days. Ask him what experiences and behaviours would make him feel happier on those days, and put together a plan for how to make those things happen when he feels low. It could be something as simple as spending time with you such as going for a walk or watching a film, or perhaps having his favourite dessert after dinner. Let your friends and family know that there’s a chance you may have to cancel plans at the last minute if your spouse needs something different on that day to lift his mood.
  5. Look after yourself: Supporting a spouse with depression can be incredibly draining, so it’s important that you make time to look after your own physical and mental wellbeing. Depression causes lethargy and loss of interest in things, so you may find yourself bearing the brunt of the housework and childcare, which can be incredibly tiring on its own, without the added pressure of looking after your spouse. Exercising together can help you both to feel happier; why not take up yoga or go walking or swimming together. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will also help you both to feel well, and strengthen your body to cope with the stress of the situation.