The advice is almost always the same: if you are suffering from depression, seek professional help from a counselor or therapist. Over 15 million adults suffer from a major depressive disorder, and millions more suffer from bipolar disorders, psychotic disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and eating disorders. As high as 50% of these individuals, for a myriad of reasons, resist treatment even when they know that they need it. During a depressive episode, sufferers often have such a distorted sense of reality and are feeling so hopeless, that they are sure a marriage or couples counselor could not possibly help them. Sometimes a depressed mood distorts reality in such a way that it creates an irritable denial of the problem, and then they are hostile to the idea of treatment entirely.
Unfortunately, mental illness not only inflicts pain upon the sufferer but upon the family, spouses, and friends who love them. Depression wreaks havoc upon marriages and intimate relationships since the sufferer is often in an emotionally disconnected fog, unable to engage interpersonally. This is incredibly stressful for those living with depressed individuals, and they are more likely to become depressed themselves. This makes it all the more pressing, urgent, and challenging for the spouse and family members to get the depressed person help, and it can be exasperating and stressful if the depressed are resistant to the idea.
Some of this resistance to treatment has to do with shame. The sense of guilt and shame from having failed at life, their marriage or work can be overwhelming, and seeking help can be felt like the ultimate weakness. Many depressed people simply have difficulty being this vulnerable with those that they feel are a stranger, i.e. the therapist. Unfortunately, if the depressed person is experiencing a high intensity of shame and guilt, any mention of getting help is perceived as a criticism or even an insult. If this is the case, simply telling them that they need help or that there is a need to change is counterproductive. The depressed can start reacting in an angry, defensive way and will stop listening entirely.
So what can you do to help the depressed love one to be receptive to help?
Be Gentle and Kind. Your spouse is probably feeling ashamed and very vulnerable. Listen attentively and empathically. The depressed love one will be more open to listening to your recommendations and wants.
Get Your Own Help. You are probably dealing with your own difficulties and getting counseling/therapy can help. It destigmatizes the therapy process and the professional may help you come up with strategies for coping.
Be Available. If they want you to be there for their first therapy appointment, be there. If they want you to liaison with mental health professionals, be available without being controlling.
Be Emotionally Vulnerable. Show that you are flawed and willing to expose your own difficulties to your loved one. Depression can be isolating-if they feel that they are not the only ones suffering from problems, their feelings are far less shaming.
Suggest They See a General Practitioner. Sometimes it is far easier to get a depressed person to see a general practitioner than a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist since they a perceived as less threatening and stigmatizing. After all, you have known your doctor for years and you see them for every other ailment. Why not this? Since the G.P. can diagnose and prescribe medication, it is a good start for treatment. Many General Practitioners are often very good about referring their patients to a therapist once they have given a patient medication.
If you are dealing with depression or you feel you a family member might need help, please feel free to contact me at (949) 251-8797. I am in the Orange County, Irvine, and Newport Beach areas.