Tips for when your partner suffers from depression

Mo and Phindi give advice on how to help your loved one

For the greater part of 2018, we had been seeing a couple where the husband was suffering from depression.
He used to be very successful in his career but decided to resign to pursue business in the same line of work. A year into his business, which wasn’t making any profit, he ran out of capital. Eight months later he decided to close the business, having sunk deep into debt.
When he attempted to rejoin the job market, things were no longer the same. After 18 months of job searching with nothing tangible, he simply gave up on life.
His wife just could not take it anymore. The stress of being the breadwinner, and which was against her principles, was taking its toll on her.
In addition, she had to deal with her highly affected husband with issues so complex that she felt weighed down.
“I’ve tried everything I can think of,” she’d say. “No matter what I do to cheer him or get him out of the house, it doesn’t help, and sometimes just leads to another fight.
“He sometimes becomes aggressive, displays anti-social behaviour and isolates himself.
“Often, he’d talk about death and how he wished he wasn’t born. I thought of leaving him, but then again I’d feel so bad because I know he’s suffering too,” she said.
“Then I wind up being dragged down with him.”
Although we had referred them to academically qualified therapists from the beginning – advice they took – they still insisted on seeing us for specific issues they were going through, and importantly for prayer and spiritual guidance.
The process was quite an illuminating experience for us. It got us thinking of how many couples where a spouse suffers from depression but is not officially diagnosed, keep clashing heads – and sometimes even gets a divorce – based just on symptoms.
Exactly what causes depression is not known. But research has revealed several possible causes and contributors. These include both biological or physical and social or psychological factors. There is often a combination of factors at play in an individual’s history and environment.
Different people become depressed for different reasons.
Sometimes a specific trigger may be identified, but at other times people seem to become depressed for no reason at all.
This is more likely when the person has experienced previous depressive episodes and when they have a genetic predisposition to depression.
Stressful life events, like loss of a loved one, traumatic illness or a financial hole, more often precede the first episode of mood disorders.
Stressful life eventss, like in the couple we refer to are often triggers of depression.
Many people have spouses living with depression but don’t know it. And they simply deal with what is in front of them in a way they believe is fitting, which often compromises both the patient and the marriage.
It is important to be knowledgeable about what some of the warning signs are, so you can take action before things get worse.
Loss of interest in activities
Lack of interest in things previously enjoyed, including hobbies, sports, going out, work or even sex, is one possible symptom of depression, especially when the loss of interest is in just about everything simultaneously.
If your spouse prefers to sleep all day, or just watch television, it may not be that they are just lazy.
“No matter what I say, he just took it personally,” the wife in the couple we were seeing last year said. People who are depressed can be sensitive and grouchy, and difficult to be around.
In addition to having a cloud over their head, depression can make them irritable, often snapping at others, or have a dark or cynical world view.
Social isolation
People who are depressed often lose interest in socialising, feeling that social contact is burdensome and pointless. This can cause a snowball effect, making them lonelier and more depressed.
It can feel like a great deal of effort for depressed people to act “normal” or happier than they are.
Judgment of self or others
The husband in the couple in reference put this point so succinctly: “Sometimes I feel like I hate everyone, but I hate myself the most.”
Since depression is often the result of turning one’s anger against oneself, an important sign is when partners are overly hard on themselves for mistakes, frequently say negative things about themselves, or have difficulty realising and really “feeling” the positive aspects of who they are.
Since we often treat others as we treat ourselves, they also may become judgmental of those closest to them. They can hold you to unrealistically high standards, or be dismissive.
Abuse of alcohol or drugs
“I’m just having fun! Relax!” can be the refrain of people using substances to ease their pain. People who are depressed sometimes use substances to try to “treat” their emotional pain, or “self-medicate”.
A few other key signs of depression are: Daily sadness;
Restless, anxious or irritable behaviour;
Trouble concentrating, focusing or remembering;
Excessive weariness and lethargy;
Eating too much or too little;
Unexplained aches and pains;
Thoughts of suicide or death. The SA Depression and Anxiety Group is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. You can contact it for counselling queries at: or 24hr helpline 0800-121-314..

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