By Alicia Searl, Crosswalk.com
If I were to be honest with you, depression has been a toxic friend of mine for quite some time. She doesn't always stick around or let me know she's coming, either. She generally shows up uninvited, sits right next to me, and whispers empty words of hopelessness that bring on agitation, all while depleting every ounce of my energy. Truth be told, I don't like her. Yet, I always seem to end up entertaining her when she drops in. And, let me tell you, she loves to overstay her welcome and truly enjoys putting a wedge in every one of my relationships, especially my marriage.
Friend, if you have a spouse struggling and suffering from this mental illness or something of the like, let me first extend my heartfelt sympathy. While I have battled depression on and off for the last twenty years or so, I can attest that it has put quite a strain on my marriage, causing a ripple effect of frustration, confusion, and helplessness for both of us.
Let me start by saying that you and your dear spouse are not alone on this journey, even though it can often feel lonely. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults will suffer from depression. That is twenty percent of Americans! Given this statistic, this is greatly impacting the quality of our home environments and causing massive emotional distress to our marriages. However, if I may reassure you, there are ways to navigate these trying times and seek hope together.
So, that being said, I would like to take a moment to address this sensitive issue and offer support to you and your spouse. Because we have been there and will most likely be there again. Thankfully, we serve a God that understands the depths of our pain and the nature of our hearts, so let's lean into what His Word says and seek His love and peace.
The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9
1. Understand and Identify the Signs
It's important to recognize some key signs of depression so you can be prepared and begin to start seeking support for your spouse, as well as yourself. Unfortunately, there are so many stigmas and misconceptions regarding depression, which can, in turn, put up barriers between a husband and a wife, making it tricky to tackle. However, in understanding some of the characteristics, you will be able to stand firm, be strong, and offer the support they really need while not allowing it to affect your own mental and emotional state.
Keep in mind that each individual is unique and tends to struggle in various ways. But if some of the symptoms below persist for more than a few weeks, it may be time to consult a medical professional or your family doctor.
Some signs of depression include:
-Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
-Loss of interest in activities or events
-Changes in diet or sleep patterns
-Fatigue or loss of energy
-Difficulty concentrating and focusing
-Unexplainable aches or pains
-Lack of zeal for life
-Irritability and angry outbursts
-Mention of suicide or death
2. Pray for Wisdom
Seeing depression symptoms in your spouse can be concerning at best. Your first reaction may be to want to nip it in the bud and just make everything go back to "the way it was." But, in many cases, depression takes a while to run its course (lasting six months or a year in some cases), so patience is essential. It's also imperative to seek the proper treatment, as 10% of depressed patients end up taking their own lives.
In knowing the severity of this, we must rely on the greatest weapon we have against anything we combat in this life – prayer! Invite God into the hurt this is causing your relationship, and pray for His wisdom and discernment. Allow Him to lead and guide you to the sources you need to gain the support you both need while extending restorative healing.
3. Talk it Out
It can be difficult to communicate with a spouse who has depression. So, tread lightly here. We must recognize that our words are indeed powerful but can especially cause great damage to a spouse who is already mentally and emotionally worn down. Being intentional and mindful of our words by choosing to temper what we say can have a lasting impact. Sometimes, the best thing to do is be silent and listen.
Here are a list of things you can DO:
Be an active listener.
Be fully engaged when they open up to share.
Watch for non-verbal cues.
Show affection if needed.
Credit their feelings.
Share meaningful Bible verses.
Pray with them.
4. Keep Things Simple
Life can often be busy, filled with children's activities and household demands. However, when a person faces the giant weight of depression, all the external stuff and obligations can often add more stress and bring on anxiety, even down to the smallest of tasks. They may put off social events, the dishes may pile up, or bills may go unpaid. This is where you can offer support and do your best to help carry the burden.
Now is the time to free up the calendar and start saying, "No." Days that are more or less "clutter-free" offer opportune times for your spouse to heal without feeling pressured to "do" or "go" somewhere. Also, note that simple gestures go a long way in healing. If your spouse needs you to help with the chores around the house or to take the children to the park, try to meet those needs for them. Trust me, in the end, they will be so thankful.
5. Regulate Healthy Habits
Depression generally sways people away from daily hygiene and caring for their health. This is where spousal support can take notice and do their part to step in and encourage healthy habits. Marriage takes teamwork, so make it something you do together. Create a daily pattern of encouraging them to get up with you and get ready in the morning. Give them positive reminders of how they are needed and that you and their children need them. Make healthy meals to share and enjoy with the family, plan daily walks, and be sure to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
All these things can make a difference in their overall health and demeanor, so keep trying, set small goals, and go from there. However, be sure to approach these topics with gentleness and kindness; if it comes across in a condescending tone, you could receive heated backlash. But, eventually, they will come around and may even warm up to your well-meaning intentions to help them stay healthy during this difficult time.
6. Encourage Hobbies and Interests
What are some hobbies and interests that your spouse generally enjoys? While it may be hard to determine in a time of depression, it's important to try to pinpoint those as a means to encourage them and remind them that they are an overcomer (Romans 8:37). Tapping into their unique interests gives them meaning and value, while boosting their self-confidence, along with so many other beautiful benefits.
Every time I go down that spiral of depression, my husband will ask what I am writing about. He knows that writing is not only a passion of mine but releases my stress and brings on a sense of calm. So, ask your spouse about their hobby and reinforce it if possible. If they have no current interest, start a new hobby together. God can always make beauty from ashes; let Him do that in your marriage.
7. Seek Appropriate Treatment
Lastly, be sure to seek the proper treatment. This is invaluable and important, especially given the harsh statistics and sad reality of what depression can do. Depending on the severity of the illness, it can lead your spouse to take medication, go to therapy, or maybe a bit of both in order to get it under control and tackle the mental and emotional damage it can cause. While the nature of it can be quite complex, addressing it head-on with a mindset that wants to move forward in a healthy way is crucial.
It may be wise to contact not only your family doctor but a biblical counselor as well. As the spouse, you may even be asked to attend some therapy sessions to better understand your spouse's needs and current struggles while finding practical ways to support them. Just be willing to be available and open to various options that will help them. Saying "yes" to them will mean more than you may ever know.
Closing Thoughts and Prayer
In closing, realize that depression could change the nature of your spouse or even the course of your marriage. But do not lose hope or grow discouraged. God does see you and the hurt you carry for your spouse. Give it all over to Him. Be sure to take care of yourself and see to it that as your spouse is receiving care, you, too, seek the help and support you need.
Father, I thank you for Your faithfulness and love during dark and trying times in our lives. I lift up the precious person laying eyes on this right now, striving to support their spouse battling depression. I pray You would encourage them and grant them peace as they navigate this difficult season. I pray they lean on You and seek You for wisdom and discernment. I also lift up their spouse and pray that You extend Your loving hand for them to take hold of, drawing them closer to You. I pray You grant them both hope and encourage them to seek the support they desperately need. Bless their marriage and provide ways for them to grow in their faith as a couple. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.