Q. My husband has been depressed for two years. He is in treatment, and he takes his medication as directed, but he is still somewhat depressed. Everything I say to him turns into an argument causing him to become defensive. What can I do or say that will help?
A. Living with a depressed loved one can be extremely frustrating and tiring. However, it is important to remember that depression is an illness just like diabetes or hypertension.
Following are some suggestions from the website PsychCentral that may help you communicate more effectively with your husband:
• Ask what he thinks would make him feel better. If he gives you suggestions, follow up with them. If he says “nothing,” remind him of the things he has enjoyed in the past.
• Reassure him that he will not always feel this way. These words offer hope in a world where he feels there is little.
• Inquire what time of day is worse for him. Many depressed people have the greatest difficulty in the morning. Be certain that you make a special effort during the time that his depression is at its worst.
• Remind him that you are there for him, and that you understand this is a painful experience.
• Ask if there is anything that could be causing him to feel more depressed. You are not being specific or blaming anyone, but giving him an opportunity to talk
• Sometimes you should just do nothing. In Naomi Remen’s book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, she advises that often the best we can do in any situation is to be silent and to listen.
If you find his depression overwhelming, you should seek counseling for yourself. It is difficult to live with anyone who is ill, but there are also ways to make it better for you.
Q. I am only 22 and I feel sad much of the time especially on weekends. I don’t enjoy socializing with old friends anymore. I go to work, and love my job. Could I be depressed?
A. Most people feel sad at times in their lives. This is a natural response to environmental and emotional changes that life brings. You said that you enjoy being at work, but not socializing with old friends. Do your friends no longer share your interests? Have you had problems with them? Do they seem immature now that you are working? If so, those are more likely the reasons that you are avoiding your social network. Remember that feeling sad is a normal reaction when we are moving to a new stage of life and leaving the old life behind.
Becoming withdrawn from others is a symptom of depression, but there are other behaviors and emotions that usually accompany the disorder. If you are clinically depressed, you will experience some of these additional symptoms:
• Agitation, restlessness or irritability
• Difficulty paying attention and/or making decisions
• Changes in appetite which result in eating too much or too little
• Feeling tired even after plenty of rest
• Feeling hopeless even when you know situations are within your control
• Loss of interest in most activities
• Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
If you are experiencing several of these symptoms, contact your medical provider. He or she can refer you to a mental health professional and place you on medication if necessary.
If you are not experiencing many of the other symptoms, you may need to find new friends. As we change and discover new interests, we need to move forward. Developing new friendships does not mean that you do not treasure your old ones, but you may need to find people who share more of your interests. This is part of maturing.
Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or send them to Dr. Ryburn, SEARK, 1900 Hazel Street, Pine Bluff, AR 71603. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all correspondence remains confidential.