'My Husband Is Depressed But Doesn't Want To Seek Help'

This week's dilemma comes from a worried (and frustrated) wife.
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Seeing someone we love struggle with their mental health isn’t easy. We want to support and help them, but it can be difficult to know what the right thing to do or say is, especially if that person doesn’t seem to want any help. This week’s reader, Rebecca, wrote in because she believes her husband is dealing with depression.

“I have been married for over 10 years years now and my husband and I don’t have sex anymore. He says it’s because he has put weight on and has started back at the gym and is losing weight,” Rebecca says.

“He has suffered from depression in the past and I feel like he still is, but doesn’t want to speak to anyone about it and feels he will just be told to get on anti-depressants. I have talked to him about this but then nothing changes. I feel we need some sort of counselling.”

We can see that Rebecca wants to support her husband but his mental health is also affecting her and their relationship. What should we do? Counselling Directory member Amy Drake is on hand to give Rebecca some advice.

How does depression affect relationships?

Depression significantly affects an individual, which in turn affects their relationships, Drake explains. “People who are experiencing depression struggle to meet their own needs, let alone their partner’s,” she says.

“They might be experiencing psychological symptoms such as an increased feeling of hopelessness, low self-esteem and being more irritable than usual. This can often lead into increased social impacts such as no desire to be involved with others, not enjoying their usual activities, or isolating themselves.”

This combined with increased physical symptoms such as appetite changes, no energy and a loss of libido means there’s limited room to nurture a relationship

“This often triggers a rather challenging relationship cycle, that is difficult to break,” says Drake. “The partner begins to feel helpless, possibly confused about changes in the individual and commonly neglected.”

This can create tensions, strains and possibly confrontation. “Which only adds to the feelings of hopelessness for the individual and so the cycle continues,” Drake says.

“It’s important to note that the experience of depression is not ‘one size fits all’ and just because somebody is diagnosed with the condition doesn’t mean that their relationship is in jeopardy.”

How can this reader speak to her partner about his mental health?

“Counselling, whether individual or couples, can be a really great way to open a conversation in a way that allows for both individuals to be heard, in an environment that is safe and fair,” Drake says.

However, she warns that Rebecca’s husband might not think this is a great idea, because this can open up those feelings of hopelessness and irritation. “Both parties want and need support and it’s important to identify what each other needs and how they can support each other in obtaining it,” she says.

Drake continues: “Suggesting something as simple as a date night could be a useful approach to opening conversation, and it would be beneficial for both parties to understand beforehand that it’s an opportunity to explore each other’s needs and allow for each other to be heard.”

When approaching this topic, Drake says it’s vital to give the other person time to explore how they feel without interruption or judgement.

“This can go a long way in easing those feelings of hopelessness,” she says. “If we can slowly encourage more open communication (for both) we can slowly begin to stop the cycle we mentioned earlier.”

What practical steps would you give to this reader?

Drake outlines the following:

• Picking a time that is appropriate for both. Trying to open a vulnerable conversation if either individual is tired, upset or distracted will potentially lead to either party feeling unheard or shut down.

• Choose the right environment – a space that feels safe and contained for both.

• Agree upon some boundaries if needed – not talking over each other, no raised voices, communicating emotions – whatever they feel is needed for them.

• Accept that the conversation will be two ways.

• Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ accusations. For example, “I feel that we could benefit from more time together” rather than “you don’t have sex with me anymore.” This approach avoids the listener feeling attacked and conflict arising.

• Listen. Allow each other to speak and communicate needs without trying to change it.

• Be patient – unfortunately depression takes times to subside, but with the right support in place, its possible!

• Take time to do more things together, perhaps walks, date night, visiting the gym together. Allow for natural progression of conversation. It doesn’t always have to be scheduled time.

• Reassuring him that reaching out for professional support doesn’t mean that her support stops.

Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.

Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost UK

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.