It seems more people have been coming out and sharing that they suffer from depression and/or anxiety. Whether it’s just during postpartum or a life-long struggle, it’s not easy to battle, and not easy to share with everyone that you are among them. I’m grateful that more people are sharing this because it is not uncommon. We all experience hard and even traumatic things, and sometimes the explanation is just that the brain chemicals are imbalanced which causes the bouts of depression. Whatever the cause may be, most people will live with it the rest of their lives.
For Trevor and I, it’s a little bit of both. Anxiety and/or depression can be difficult to manage on your own, let alone helping your spouse manage there’s. This can be a large or ongoing hurdle to jump in marriage. And with the negative stigma attached to this mental illness, you may feel very alone in battling it. This is why I felt the need to address this topic in multiple blog posts, whether it’s for you individually, for your spouse, or for the both of you. I’m going to address depression in general, how it affects your marriage, and how you can better handle it in your marriage.
This blog post addresses some do’s and don’ts when trying to help your depressed spouse, but you can generalize it to others, too. I want to provide some explanations for why I would say these are do’s and don’ts, but I want to give background info on depression so you can understand it better. Because the thing about depression, is that it’s like your own personal brand of sadness that no one else can fully understand unless they are in your head. Even if you’re married to someone who also experiences depression, you both will have different triggers, different reasons, and different responses.
When it comes to depressive disorders:
- It’s more than just being sad for a few days. It usually goes on every day for about a 2 or more week period.
- Symptoms of depression can be at least 5 of the following: diminished or no interest or pleasure in activities, big change in weight, insomnia or hypersomnia, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or shame, hard time thinking, focusing, indecisiveness, thoughts of death.
- There are different types of depression that a person can experience: postpartum depression, major depression, and seasonal affective disorder are just a few. Some of these are life-long, while other types typically last for a short period of time.
- Be mindful of life adjustments, especially sudden ones like unemployment, divorce, having a child, loss of a loved one, and even other kinds of loss like moving.
- Sometimes they may not know WHY. This is when it could just be imbalanced brain chemicals.
- You may not understand why they could be feeling depressed.
- Many people suffer from this.
- Many people manage it effectively with medication and/or counseling.
The Do’s and Don’ts
- Empathize. If you don’t know how to do that, I recommend reading this blog post that includes a life-changing video by Brene Brown on what empathy means.
- Ask them if there is anything you can do for them, but know they may not know themselves what could help, so typically the response is: “I don’t know.” Or sometimes they do know what would make them feel better but they don’t want to feel like any more of a burden.
- Do something nice for them that you know they love, anyways. Something they are sure to enjoy in any mood. (Mine is a backscratch! I have never turned down one before.)
- Notice what triggers depressive episodes and try to steer away from those situations.
- Just love them.
- Don’t try to make it feel better with: “At least….” Looking at the positive is a great idea, but this phrase can actually be negative because it discounts their very real feelings.
- Don’t try and solve the problem, instead just focus on being a good listener because that’s what is in your control.
- Don’t keep pushing them for WHY they are feeling depressed. Yes, ask if they think they know why they are feeling down, but if they don’t know, leave it at that. It may not be from any particular situation. If at some point they do figure out possibly why, let them bring it up and listen.
- Don’t be quick to blame yourself, or think it’s because of something you did. As spouses, it’s hard not to blame yourself because of the responsibility we feel to keep them happy. For us, we have found that this can make the other spouse more depressed because they see you are blaming yourself.
Try your best with these. But don’t put all the responsibility on your shoulders to help them out of their depression. I address that responsibility in this blog post. If you are wanting more information on understanding depression and how it affects your marriage, read this.