Dear Dr. Michelle:
My husband and I have been married for 30 years and have raised 3 children. In fact, our youngest son just moved out this past year. We have lived a wonderful life and feel blessed. Throughout the years, my husband would go through times where he seemed depressed and was down and out, but this would only last about week or so and then he would snap out of it. Now he just seems depressed all of the time. He has a hard time getting out of bed, he is not motivated, and it seems like nothing makes him happy. This has been going on now for more than 8 months. I don’t know what to do to help and I am a bit at my wits end. Help!!
I am sorry that your husband is going through a difficult time and it is understandable for you to be struggling with how to help. It is very hard to watch a loved one experience depression and it is normal for you to feel perplexed about the reason, particularly when you both have such a full life.
We are each susceptible to different symptoms when we experience challenges in our life, and most mental health symptoms are inherited. It sounds like your husband is more susceptible to depression given that he has experienced this in the past, albeit for shorter periods of time.
An important element to understand about depression is that it takes much more than “willpower” to change because it is biologically driven. Specifically, depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and in order to improve, people need to increase their endorphins. Exercise, healthy foods, changing thoughts, feelings and behavior, laughing, meditation or the right prescribed medication are just some of the things people can do to increase their endorphins. Understanding more about depression in general will help you understand what your husband is going through.
To learn more please review some of our other posts on this topic:
Tips for Supporting A Loved One with Depression
The following are some key tips to help you support your husband, as well as tips to help you deal with how his depression is affecting you:
- Avoid judgement about your husband’s depression. It is important to understand depression is a chemical imbalance rather than something that he is doing to himself or something he can snap out of on his own. Think of depression as a medical problem. Reversing it could take chemical intervention, time, mental and physical effort and it cannot be rushed.
- Review contributing factors. To understand the reason why his depression has flared up this time and for so long, review specific things that could be contributing - significant life events such as a change in environment, job change, retirement, the death of loved one and/or new medical problems. You mentioned your youngest child just moved out. Perhaps the final launching of all of your children and coming to terms with this new stage of life is a meaningful contributing factor. To help mitigate the effects of life changing events, talk together frequently about the changes. Try to identify some new daily activities that you could start together to replace things you used to do prior to the new life change. Intentionally starting some new routines will help you manage the change more effectively and can help you embrace the change.
- Avoid lecturing, nagging or trying to motivate your husband by giving him pep talks. All of these unhealthy interactions could lead to more depression based on undo pressure and can potentially damage your relationship.
- Review substance use and identify if this is part of the problem. The results of high uses of alcohol or other substances can mask itself as depression or contribute to it. When people are depressed, they readily turn to alcohol to cope, inadvertently creating an alcohol problem in addition to their depression. Evaluate if your substance use is contributing to use by your husband, or vice versa. If there is a high substance use, consider abstinence while your husband deals with the depression.
- Manage your own expectations. You do not have control over your husband or his depression, but you do have control over how you respond to him and how you think and feel about his depression. It you set your expectation too high and beyond your control you will be setting yourself up to feel discouraged and disappointed.
- Empathize with your husband but do not parent him. Empathizing means to be tolerant, understanding, and make yourself available to listen. Parenting in this case means you are enabling his depression. It is not your responsibility to get him up, complete his work or household chores, run his errands or to manage his work, family and friend relationships. Your husband needs to learn how to manage the effects of his depression so that he can choose how and when to take control of those effects.
- Do not put your own life on hold. Doing so could potentially lead to your own depression or worse, resentment toward your husband or his depression. Continue to do all of the things you love to do, even if it means you have to do them alone. If you are not comfortable doing activities by yourself, start with smaller things, like going shopping or eating out by yourself. Work you way up to something more daring like going to a movie, engaging in some other type of physical activity, like skiing, or going to a class or taking up a new hobby that does not require your husband’s participation.
Based on what you have shared, it is possible that your husband has a history of depression. A good way to help him is to encourage therapy. Working with a professional can help him evaluate if medication is an option and help him recognize the contributing factors to his depression. Therapy can also provide him the opportunity to resolve any life changing events that might be getting in his way. Last, I would recommend that you attend therapy with your husband if he is willing. Depression can be just as taxing on family members as it is on the person experiencing the depression. Therapy can offer you the support you need while you are supporting your husband.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.