Some tips for how to accompany your depressed loved one on the road treatment.
If your spouse is experiencing depression, this can have negative consequences on family life. Depression creates a difficult environment for the one who has this illness and for all those who live with and love them. This is considerably accentuated when the illness is not being treated or the person fights getting help. At that point, what can you do?
Educate yourself about what they are going through
First let’s consider what you shouldn’t do. There’s a great temptation to ask a depressed person to “look on the bright side” or “make more of an effort.” But just as we would not ask a person with physical paralysis to snap out of it and go running, we can’t ask a person with depression to exercise a paralyzed will. Clinical depression is more than a bad mood, and it is not something over which the will alone has control. Depression often affects eating and sleeping patterns, the ability to concentrate and make prudent decisions, and the sense of loving and being loved by others — which is why it is so heartbreaking not only for the one who is ill, but also for the spouse and children.
There are many resources, from books to internet chat groups to family counseling, available to support the family members of those who have clinical depression. It is often a good idea to avail yourself of these even when your spouse is hesitant to seek treatment, because they can give you a basis for providing the support and compassion your loved one needs. They will also help you feel more hopeful about your loved one’s future and stronger in yourself. Don’t forget to ask your priest to keep you all in prayer, too.
Moving towards treatment together
If you suspect that your spouse is depressed but he or she denies it, one place to begin is by asking them to see their regular physician. Sometimes the symptoms of depression are mimicked by other underlying physical problems such as vitamin deficiencies or sleep disorders, so physicians are good at screening. The doctor may refer your spouse to a specialist for further evaluation, or suggest a beginning treatment regimen that may include counseling and or medication.
If your spouse already has a diagnosis and has tried treatment before but became discouraged, try your best to help him or her look for alternatives. People with depression often feel pessimistic or hopeless about their own prospects, or resist treatment out of fear or an unwarranted feeling of shame (this last is common among men, who are often raised to believe they have to tough out any emotional setbacks). Assure him or her that you want what is best for them, and that you understand this is no overnight process.
You (and your children, too) can also help by engaging your spouse in the good habits that do help those who live with depression: getting good exercise, sleeping well but not all day, avoiding overindulgence in alcohol or use of drugs, eating nutritious, fresh foods, getting sunlight for at least a few minutes every day. These habits will help your whole family’s emotional and physical health, as well as supporting your spouse.
Last, but not least, it is a very good idea to keep in mind family prayer, which is truly therapeutic.