Having a partner or spouse who’s depressed can affect your relationship — especially if they won’t get help. But there are ways you can help.
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting millions worldwide.
But knowing that others can relate to your experience is of little comfort when you’re dealing with a partner or spouse living with depression who refuses to get help.
Depression can have negative impacts if left untreated. And when one partner in a relationship is living with depression, it becomes a shared experience.
It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, depression can take a toll on your relationship, but on the other hand, the partner with depression has the benefit of an immediate support system.
Which makes it all the more frustrating when they refuse to accept or get help.
This is one of the most confusing and painful questions for people in a relationship with someone living with depression.
But the answers to this question can vary quite a bit.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are several reasons that can exist alone or in combination with others. This can include:
- Denial: Some people with depression may not realize they’re depressed, the extent of their depression, or that they may need help. They may tell you that they’re fine or that what they’re experiencing is temporary.
- Rationalization: Minimizing their condition because “We all get stressed” or “Everyone else deals with this too” is a common reason for not seeking help.
- Lack of energy: Getting help for depression takes effort and energy, something a person living with the condition may have in short supply.
- Hopelessness: This is a hallmark symptom of depression and also a reason someone might not get help. “No one can help me” or “Nothing can be done” are common sentiments for someone deeply depressed.
- Embarrassment: One of the most common reasons for not getting help is the feeling of shame and embarrassment that comes with admitting you need it.
But the question of “Why won’t my partner or spouse get help?” isn’t the only one asked by people whose partners or spouses are depressed. Other common questions are:
- “Don’t they want to get better?”
- “Can’t they see what this is doing to us? To me?”
- “Is it my fault?”
These are all valid questions. The answer to these questions may be:
- Yes: Most people with depression want to experience an improvement in their symptoms. But they may not know where to start or what “better” looks like anymore. But there are some people for whom depression has sapped the desire for anything, even change.
- Maybe: They may see what it’s doing to you and to your relationship, but that probably makes how they feel worse — not motivate them. Or depending on how severe the depression is, they may not be able to see beyond their own gray world.
- No: Depression has deep roots. You’re not responsible for their depression, although some situations could be influencing it in some way.
If your partner won’t seek treatment on their own, can you really help?
Yes. But the key here is help — not fix.
Watching someone you love live with depression can leave you feeling helpless and desperate to somehow fix things for them and ease their symptoms. It can also leave you feeling …
So, one of the crucial things to do when helping your partner or spouse who’s depressed is to take care of yourself. You won’t be in any position to help someone else if you neglect the self-care needed to keep yourself healthy.
Helping your partner or spouse overcome depression directly is less precise. There are no magic words or techniques that will eliminate how they’re feeling and make them feel “better.”
But there are ways you can help and ensure they feel supported and loved.
- Try to educate yourself about the condition. Depression can present differently in each person. The more you know about the possible symptoms and trajectory of depression, the more equipped you may be to provide the support and access to resources that may be needed. This can also help you recognize when things are getting better or worse and track your own mood.
- Consider asking your partner what they need and how you can help. Although you aren’t likely to get a clear answer to this question, it’s possible that there’s something they feel would be helpful. By asking, you’re demonstrating support and caring, which is something they need. You’re also asking them to think about change and solutions, which are the opposite of how a depressed person may be thinking.
- Try to reinforce the idea that you’re a team. Depression can be an isolating condition. Romantic partners are often the first line of support for someone with depression, according to a 2017 study. So, they can be crucial to recovery.
- Consider discussing getting professional help without being pushy. If your partner is reluctant to get help, pushing too hard can make them double down on their refusal. Instead, talk with them gently about their symptoms and the possibility of eliminating them with the right treatment.
- Try to enlist support from family and friends. This can be support for both your partner and you.
And perhaps the most important and certainly one of the most challenging things you can do is to,
- Try to have patience. Depression doesn’t go away overnight, and the dial can turn slowly — very slowly. Your patience is an expression of your love and gives the support your partner needs.
Knowing what you should do is only half the picture.
There are also certain things that, despite their well-intentioned origin, can be counterproductive to your efforts.
Common mistakes to avoid are:
- Using platitudes: “Count your blessings,” “It will all get better,” and “Don’t you know how lucky you are” are all examples of statements that can diminish their condition. They may, in fact, drive your partner deeper into their depression.
- Tough love: Telling someone who’s depressed that they need to “Get over it” or that if they don’t get help, you’ll (fill in the punitive action here) is also not helpful.
- Telling them what will make them feel better: You may think going to a party or getting more sleep will ease your partner’s depression symptoms, but that may not be the case. Suggesting activities and encouraging healthy behaviors may be helpful for some but not for others.
- Assuming they’ll be fine and ignoring their depression: Depression, especially severe depression, doesn’t generally improve on its own. Often interventions are needed. While it might not be easy to get your partner to seek treatment, regular encouragement and an awareness of any worsening symptoms are still crucial.
- Failing to give them space: You might be worried and feel you need to be with them all the time to help and keep them safe, but this may not be helpful. Your partner might need space and time to process things.
It’s not uncommon for people living with mental health conditions to not seek treatment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help or that things won’t improve.
If your partner or spouse is depressed and refuses to get help, keep in mind that you aren’t the cause of their depression. You may not be able to make them seek treatment, but there are ways you can help.
Just being there and being supportive can make a big difference, even if you can’t see it. Remember that patience is key.
Dealing with a depressed partner or spouse who won’t get help can be challenging, and it can be easy to feel discouraged. But with the right support and treatment, things can (and generally do) improve.