One of the most common forms of illness across the world, more than 350 million people experience some form of a depressive disorder. Varying degrees of depression are the leading cause of disability worldwide, and many people go undiagnosed every single year. In fact, fewer than half of affected people ever receive treatment.
Depression is different than the normal ups and downs that all of us go through. It’s more than just a feeling of temporary sadness (which is totally common, even without direct reason), and is instead a shift in brain chemicals that causes lasting changes to mood, appetite, energy, sex drive, etc.
While “depression” is a broad term for the symptoms of several specific disorders, the varying types of depression fall under two main categories: major depressive disorder and dysthymia. There are also some other, less common types grouped together as atypical depression. This is further complicated by the fact that many other mental disorders can also lead to depression-like symptoms.
Depression, in a general sense, can range from mild, to moderate, to severe – and this is true across the whole range of specific illnesses. Ultimately, a professional evaluation is required to understand the specific disorder, but knowing the common symptoms that come along with all types of depression can be useful in some self-diagnosis, knowing when it’s time to try some of the more basic treatment methods, and deciding if you (or your spouse) should seek professional help.
Common Depression Symptoms
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you think you or your spouse may be suffering from a form of clinical depression, be on the look out for the following:
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
• Lack of energy and enthusiasm
• Feeling of hopelessness, extreme apathy, and/or pessimism
• Loss of interest activities that were once enjoyed (including sex)
• Problems with food – either overeating or loss of appetite
• Suicidal thoughts
• Sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
• Persistent headaches, body aches, cramping, or excessive tension
• Difficulty with sleep – either insomnia or too much sleep
These are all important warning signs that negative thoughts and feelings are not just fleeting or temporary. If you are experiencing these things in an ongoing way, or seeing these thoughts and behaviors in your spouse, it may very well be a sign that a depressive disorder is impacting mental health, and with it, your marriage.
What To Do
Again, because this type of mental illness has many forms, an expert opinion and professional diagnosis will likely offer the most thorough and effective solutions, but even as a couple, there are steps you can take – and more importantly, things you should understand – to help prevent depression from tearing your relationship apart.
• Don’t get caught up in resentment – It’s all too easy to become frustrated with a spouse’s depression. They might be negative, hard to deal with, not engaging with you, neglecting responsibilities, etc. – but you have to understand that they are fighting a mental battle, and that they aren’t intentionally doing it to irritate you. Don’t take it personally – it certainly won’t help, and will likely cause further problems in the relationship.
• Help them get help – Part of depression’s hold on a person makes them think that many things are useless, not worth pursuing, or that even if they try, things won’t get better. This is a symptom of the disease! One of the best things you can do is guide them toward the things that may provide relief, and help them understand that treatment can be effective.
• Offer to join – Facing up to mental illness can be scary. It can be difficult to admit to yourself that there’s a legitimate problem in the first place, and taking the leap to seek professional help can be even more terrifying! Give your spouse the support they need as much as you possibly can. Offer to visit doctors with them, accompany them to therapy sessions – whatever it takes to get them seeking the help they need.
• Be a team – You and your spouse are in this together. Understand that the real “enemy” here is the illness, not the behavior, not the problems it’s causing in the marriage. To keep your marriage together, your spouse will likely need your assistance – whether that’s helping them keep up with treatment, taking their medication, talking about their problems, and on and on. Be an ally, even when things get tough.
• Talk to the kids – Your children deserve to know what’s going, but depending on their age(s), they may not fully understand why one of their parents is facing such difficulty. Try to talk to them in an age-appropriate way so they aren’t left wondering what’s wrong.
• Understand that depression is often episodic – People suffering from depression might not be in such a state constantly. Instead, it can wax and wane, be triggered, or appear unexpectedly. Keep in mind that this is how the disease operates, and give your spouse the benefit of the doubt when they start exhibiting depressive behaviors.
• Be patient with treatment ¬– Overcoming depression – regardless of the type of treatment – will take time. There may be relapsing and mood swings, it may take some trial and error to find the most effective treatment, and even with successful, ongoing methods to mitigate the symptoms, the problems can still flare up from time to time. Your patience throughout the process will be a tremendous help, and an anchor your spouse can hold on to as they navigate their issues.
Specific methods of treatment are quite varied, and it may take a combination of approaches before your spouse can see positive results. However, left untreated or undiagnosed, depression can drag your spouse into despair, and take your relationship with it.
Fortunately, there is help available, and if you work together as a team, things can get better!