How should you deal with a depressed spouse?

With nearly 19 million Americans experiencing depression, it's inevitable the disease will impact wedded bliss for many people.

Early 20th century English novelist Virginia Woolf dealt with depression throughout her life. She finally succumbed to it in 1941 by committing suicide. Before she did, however, she wrote her beloved husband, Leonard, a letter. In it, she said to him: "... until this disease came on, we were perfectly happy."

If Leonard Woolf had known ahead of time that his wife was planning to end her life, could he have stopped her? We'll never know for sure. However, what we can assume is that Virginia's story might have had a more positive ending had she lived in our modern times. There's now a much greater understanding of clinical depression -- and a wider variety of effective treatments for it. So if you believe your spouse is depressed, and you want to avoid a worst-case scenario, like the one played out by Virginia Woolf, look for these signs, as described by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Withdrawal and spending a lot of time alone
  • Noticeable or rapid mood swings
  • Dramatic personality changes
  • Hopelessness or feeling trapped
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Substance abuse
  • Participation in self-destructive behaviors
  • Giving belongings away to others
  • Saying goodbye to others
  • Blatantly discussing suicide

Anyone experiencing depression can benefit from professional treatment; however, seeing a doctor or mental health professional is critical if your spouse is experiencing any of the above behaviors.

When suggesting that your spouse seek professional help, don't approach the subject with anger or arrogance. Instead, calmly describe to your partner the changes you've noticed in his or her mood and health (fatigue and chronic pain can be symptoms of depression as well) and explain why you think seeing a professional will be a good option. Be prepared to schedule appointments on your spouse's behalf -- and even drive him or her to doctor visits, if necessary.

In addition to treatment, there are lots of other ways you can help your partner through depression. You'll find several helpful tips on the next page.