Continuing with our last post, there are several ways you can help your spouse overcome depression, or at least be the support your spouse needs to seek professional help in order for him/her to feel better. Fortunately, depression is a treatable illness, and while many people live with depression, they find support to go on living life, sometimes through therapy alone, or with a combination of therapy and medication.
While there is no substitute for professional help and medical advice, here are eight ways you can support your spouse through depression and help sustain a healthy marriage. There is no doubt that following these steps you will help your spouse feel the support you are bringing him/her to face that situation that is making him/her feel that way:
- Be there.
Just being present with your spouse is being supportive. You do not need to try to fix any problem, or even look for a problem to fix – there may not be an obvious issue, and trying to fix a perceived problem can often make things worse for the other person. Symptoms of depression can seemingly descend from out of the blue, without a clear cause or trigger. What matters the most is that the person struggling feels safe and supported. Never underestimate the impact of sitting in silence with someone who is feeling down – having someone with you in a time of suffering without feeling the pressure to do anything or say anything, can ease the sense of loneliness and despair.
Invite your spouse to talk about how he/she feels, and what is on his/her mind, and then practice active listening. Active listening means paying attention, reflecting what you have heard back to him/her, and withholding judgment or giving advice. It can be helpful to ask your partner at the outset if he/she would like support or solutions, so you know how to approach the conversation. Do not give up on your partner if he/she isolate and let him/her know you are there if he/she wants to talk.
- Encourage your partner to seek professional help
When depressive symptoms persist and interfere with your spouse’s ability to take care of himself/herself, or his/her function at work, or show up in his/her relationships, encourage your partner to seek advice from a medical professional. Your family doctor can refer your partner to a mental health professional as well as prescribe medication if necessary. A clinical counselor can support a person with mental health issues to process problematic thoughts and emotions and develop healthy coping skills. Today many mental health professionals work online so you can receive support without leaving the comfort of your home. If counseling is not a financially viable option, visit your local church or search online for low-cost or community support groups.
- Remove stressors
Simple daily tasks can seem overwhelming for someone experiencing depression. Taking care of household maintenance including laundry, cooking, cleaning, and groceries, will help to ease the burden. Removing or reducing responsibilities wherever possible will help create more mental space for your spouse.
- Get moving, together.
Set an intention to spend some time together outdoors. Exercise is a powerful mood-booster, and even a short walk around the neighborhood can reap rewards. Movement, a change of scenery, and time spent together can all help change brain chemistry, and when the heart rate is increased, we breath more deeply, leading to greater mindfulness. There is also a proven connection between spending time in nature, and reduced stress and depression, so taking a walk in nature or spending time in a green-space will ease symptoms and increase resilience.
- Focus on eating healthy foods
The brain needs vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for healthy cognition, so make sure your spouse is getting enough fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, and drinking plenty of water.
- Use words of affirmation
Depression can take a toll on a person’s sense of self and self-esteem, so your words of love, affirmation, and encouragement will go a long way. Encourage your spouse when they make progress, and remind them of their strengths, talents, and the many qualities you love about them.
- Take care of yourself.
When the people we care for are unwell, the most important thing we can do for them is to stay fit and healthy. You must continue to take care of your own health and well-being so you can be strong for your partner during a challenging time. As much as possible, keep doing the things you enjoy, connect with your support network, and seek out emotional support. For the other partner, the significant changes to their spouse’s mood, energy and behavior, can lead to a great sense of loss for the healthy and vibrant partner they know so well, and often a feeling of helplessness.
The important thing is to have an active role when our spouses are facing depression and fighting its symptoms and effects. Just by being there, we will help our partner feel better and by showing our support, we will make them feel they are loved and that we care.
God wants us to be happy, healthy and to live our lives to the fullest, so He has showed us how by playing our relational role, just as He plays His in the triune deity, we will be reflecting His relational image and showing our love at its best expression.
See depression as an intruder in your marriage.
Like any other illness, depression is an outside force – an unwanted visitor that wreaks havoc on your spouse’s health, your marriage, and your family life. Seeing it this way can allow the both of you to talk about its effects without feeling guilt or shame. “Once we start talking about it as a third party, as ‘the depression,’ we will be able to express our frustrations in a constructive way,” says Scott-Lowe. “If Dennis really doubted his worth, he might say, ‘That is just depression speaking. It is not you’. When he is not depressed, he does not think this way. He is filling you with lies”.
Acknowledge that you cannot cure your partner’s depression.
Your spouse needs your love, support, and concern, but these important qualities cannot reverse depression any more than they can control blood sugar levels, ease arthritis pain, or clear clogged arteries. Just as you would not rely on just love to cure a medical condition, or withdraw love because it did not cure it, do not expect your feelings or attention to be able to alter your spouse’s unbalanced brain chemistry. Use your love to get help and remind your partner of his/her intrinsic worth during this challenging time.
Do you know any other way we can support our spouse when he/she is facing depression? Have you felt depressed by any circumstance? Have you felt God’s hand supporting you while going through a difficult situation? Share your answers with us, so we can enrich our experience and help others face this important issue. God bless you.
 Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature