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Helping My Husband

Question:

My husband is suffering from depression. The M.D. gave him some samples of a med that seems to be working on both the emotional and the physical part of his depression. There are good days and there are bad. Most of the time he stays in our bedroom. He is seeing a councilor and I realize that he will need time to get back on his feet. I want to support him as best as I can. But I feel useless. I do not know how I can help him. I let him know that I and the children love him and that we will get through this not matter what. I have started looking for a job to take the burden off of him having to do it all. He has missed two weeks of work and they expect one more week and then they are going to try letting him go back to work. This depression was the worse that I have ever seen. He tried to take his life. My husband is just not that kind of man. But things are getting better with time and counseling and the medication. I just want to help him the best way I can without coming across to mothering or to cold to the situation. What do you suggest?

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  • Dr. Dombeck responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
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Answer:

I’m glad to learn that your husband is receiving help for his depression. Antidepressant medicines and psychotherapy are both appropriate interventions for depression, and will likely prove helpful to him. Also, many depressions lift spontaneously after a period of time goes by. Either way, there is every reason to hope that his mood and energy will soon return to normal.

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p> There are several things you can do to help support your husband’s recovery and the well-being of your family.

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p> Learn about depression so that you can recognize the symptoms for now and the future. It is halfway likely that you’ll be dealing with depression again, now that you’ve dealt with it once as depression tends to reoccur. Also, there are two subtypes of depression – standard unipolar depression, and bipolar depression. Sometimes bipolar depression is mistaken for unipolar depression – particularly in the early stages of bipolar depression. The distinction matters because the treatment methods are different. You’ll want to feel confident that your husband is getting the proper treatment for the proper problem.

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p> Research the different types of therapy available for depression. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for depression is a type of psychotherapy that is known to be particularly effective in helping people to stay recovered from depression once they are recovered. If your husband is not getting CBT, you might consider asking about it.

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p> Monitor your husband’s medicine intake. Medicine cannot have its effect if it doesn’t’ get taken on schedule.

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p> With regard to suicidality, be vigilant but don’t worry too much. If he is ever really set on killing himself there isn’t too much you could do to stop him. Learn his preferred plan for killing himself and remove the tools (guns/knives/saws/hoses/pills/rope/etc.) he would need to carry out that plan from your living space. Communicate to him how much you would miss him and how much his family would suffer in his absence.

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p> You are wise to worry about being too mothering towards your husband. The average man doesn’t like to accept help; seeing it instead as a sign of weakness. It is all too easy for a depressed man to feel emasculated if too much kind-hearted help is pushed his way. The flip side of this is that a man is vulnerable to not asking for help when he needs it. Try to walk the line between providing too much help and not enough if you can. He’ll help you by not protesting too much when you are offering him help he needs but won’t ask for. He’ll withdraw or get agitated when you offer too much help. Treat him as an adult and not a baby, and you’ll do fine.

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p> Get some counseling for yourself. I detect a little shock in your email. Disbelief that your husband could act the way he did, and also uncertainty as to what the best way to help provide for your family and your husband will be. While I’m happy to help point the way, there is no substitute for live one-on-one help and advice.

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p> Take care of the household. Though your husband may be down for the count for a while, your children still need to know that there is an adult in the house who will set limits and provide for their needs.

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Comments
  • Tom K

    You're not the only person with a depressed partner. I too know it's hard. I'm thinking of you. All the best. Don't forget all of the love.

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