Marriage And Depression
By Malcolm M. MacFarlane, M.A. RMFT
Depression in a spouse is an issue that most couples will face at some point in their marriage. It is estimated that seven to nine percent of Canadians will suffer from depression at some point in their lifetime.
Depression is a normal and natural response to loss or grief, whether a death, separation from a loved one, job loss, loss of physical health, or relocation. Depression may result from living in a depressing situation; including poverty, inadequate housing, or an abusive relationship. Marital distress and relationship conflict also contribute to depression. Biological causes include illness such as thyroid disorder, diabetes, or cardiac problems. Medications, including some blood pressure and heart medications, have depression as a side effect. Finally, some individuals seem to have a biological predisposition toward depression that may be rooted in chemical imbalances in the brain.
Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or helplessness. There may also be feelings of anxiety, irritability or agitation. Fatigue, low energy, and a reduced activity level are also common, as is withdrawal from social contact and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, including sex. There may be changes in appetite, weight or sleep patterns. There may also be memory problems or difficulty concentrating. Often there are feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy and a lowered sense of self esteem. In more serious cases there may be suicidal thoughts or a feeling that “life is not worth living.”
Depression affects the quality of marital relationships. It is difficult to watch someone you love struggling with feelings of low self esteem and low self worth. Concerns regarding suicide can be a major stress. Many symptoms of depression such as withdrawal, lack of energy, and lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities can leave spouses feeling a beloved partner has been lost. Partners of depressed individuals often feel an increased sense of burden, and suffer from depression themselves.
Fortunately, depression responds well to treatment. Mild depression may be treated with psychotherapy alone, but often a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication is used. Marriage and family therapists are trained to treat depression through a variety of psychotherapy approaches including brief therapy, problem solving, cognitive behavioural, and interpersonal therapy. Their knowledge and expertise regarding marital and family relationships makes them an excellent choice for addressing relationship causes of depression, and for supporting and educating family members.
If you believe your spouse is depressed, talk with them about your concerns and the symptoms you see, and encourage them to seek treatment. Offer to go with them to their doctor or therapist for support, and to share information about your concerns. Encourage them to follow through with treatment recommendations. Offer emotional support, encouraging them to talk about their worries and their feelings. Above all, remember that depression is an illness; not something that your partner is choosing. With time and treatment you can again enjoy the intimacy and closeness you both desire.
Malcolm M. MacFarlane, M.A. RMFT is a clinical fellow and approved supervisor with the Ontario Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, a division of the Registry of Marriage and Family Therapists in Canada, Inc. He is employed as a Mental Health Therapist at Ross Memorial Hospital Community Counselling Services, Lindsay, Ontario.