How to Help a Partner Struggling With Clinical Depression

When I first met my wife, I had no idea that she had a history of clinical depression.  Of course, she had told me about it before we were married, but I did not really know what that meant.  I had not had any previous exposure to serious depression in people.  By the time we were dating, she was already on a mix of anti-depressants. At the time, the effects of depression were not immediately obvious to me.

The first time we experienced a major loss together was in the first year of our marriage. It was the first time I really got to see what she was like when dealing with depression, on top of dealing with grief.  Within the first couple of months of being married, I got my wife pregnant.  It was not exactly a planned pregnancy, but we were ecstatic nonetheless.  We started making plans for our first baby, and had fun picking out names, going back and forth tossing around different combinations of names until we could agree on some.

Then, half-way through the second trimester of her pregnancy, my wife had a miscarriage.  It was devastating, to say the least.  We thought we were in the safe zone, since we had passed the first trimester.  We had already told our families about their first grandbaby and had gotten them excited, and now we had to call them and tell them the shocking news.  It was more than we could stand.

My wife was still taking college classes at the time, trying to finish her degree.  The grief was overwhelming, and she fell into a depression.  She could no longer get up to go to class.  She dropped out of all her classes half-way through the semester.  All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep.  When she was awake, she was like a zombie, and would break out in tears intermittently throughout the day.

We have been married seventeen years now.  It has been seventeen years since we lost our first baby.  Nothing has come close to that experience since then, but my wife still has her ups and downs.  She still struggles with depression.  We have been blessed with two beautiful girls since we lost the first one, but we never forget our first baby.

Even through our first loss and my wife’s struggle with depression over the years, I still love my wife and care for her deeply.  Over the years, I have learned a lot about clinical depression and how to deal with it.  So what do you do when your partner is dealing with serious depression?

Depression is not their fault

When dealing with clinical depression, most of the time, it is not the person’s fault.  It is not something they can change on their own.  It’s not something they did to bring it on.  They can’t just pretend it’s not there, or wish it away.  It’s not all just in their head.

After our oldest daughter was born, my wife fell into post-partum depression.  This is often caused by the abrupt change in hormones in the body, and is somewhat common after a woman gives birth.  This can be one type physiological trigger.  There could be environmental factors as well that trigger depression.

Often times, clinical depression is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.  Anti-depressants work by trying to correct those imbalances, making it easier for synapses to connect.  In many cases, as in my wife’s case, this kind of chemical imbalance is and can be hereditary.  There is a long history of clinical depression going up my wife’s family.

It does no good, then, to place blame on your partner, or get angry at them for not being able to change their mood like you can, or to get out of bed and be productive.  If your partner has been diagnosed with clinical depression, then you have to understand that it is not their fault.  There is nothing they did to bring it on, and there is nothing they can do to just “snap” out of it.

Get professional help

Clinical depression is a serious illness, and it is not something you can change with herbal supplements or teas, for example.  Some of those over-the-counter solutions may help with minor or occasional cases of anxiety, but they should not be relied upon for serious illnesses.  The first thing you need to do is see a psychiatrist – not a psychologist or therapist, but a licensed medical doctor.

If your partner has not seen a psychiatrist yet, it may be time to consider taking him or her to one.  A psychologist may refer your partner to a psychiatrist, if they suspect there may be a chemical imbalance in the brain that needs to be addressed.  Only a psychiatrist can write prescriptions for medicines that can help with the chemical imbalances, and will work with you to find the correct dosage.

When my wife got pregnant with our first-born, it had only been a few months since the miscarriage, and she was still dealing with the subsequent depression.  We discussed our options with her psychiatrist, and we decided that the benefits of her not feeling depressed were greater than any risks the medications might pose during the pregnancy.  Thus, she went back on antidepressants during her second pregnancy.  Our daughter was born strong and healthy.  You and your partner must make these kinds of decisions, with your doctor.

Help your spouse take their prescription medications

One of the symptoms of clinical depression is feeling a complete lack of motivation to do anything.  It almost borders on apathy.  Part of this lack of motivation applies towards seeking treatment, and taking any prescribed medications.  That is why it is important for you to be supportive and take your partner to a psychiatrist, pick up their prescriptions, and help administer the correct dosage every day.

Anti-depressants do not work overnight, and they must usually be taken for extended periods of time, if not for the rest of their lives.  There is no short term solution.   Counseling and therapy can help you and your partner deal with issues as they arise, but in the long term, the medication prescribed by the psychiatrist must be allowed to work.

These kind of medications are not the kind that can be missed.  Since they affect the chemical balance in the brain, even skipping one dosage can make a person feel off.  Every morning, I take out my wife’s prescribed medications in the right dosage, and personally hand them to her, along with a glass of water to help her swallow them.  Make it easy for your partner to take their medications on a regular schedule, and do not give them an excuse to miss taking it.

Finally, be patient, understanding and loving

Dealing with a depressed partner is difficult, under any circumstance.  Dealing with constant, clinical depression can be especially challenging, but it doesn’t have to be if you follow the guidelines above.  There is help.  There will be ups and downs, particularly when the doctor is trying to find the right mix of medications and the right dosages that work.

Through it all, remember why you love your partner, and be patient.  It does get better.  Just because your partner is struggling with depression and may be taking medications does not mean that they won’t know or remember anything you do or say.  They will remember, even when they are feeling better.

While they are feeling depressed, your partner may even say things or do things that hurt you.  This is when you have to be strong, and just let it slide.  Let it go. Realize they are not in their right mind, and continue to show them you care and will not hurt them.  This is when you must find strength in the love you have for your partner, in the love that brought you together in the first place.

Encourage them to get up and do things with you, even though they don’t feel like it, but don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to.  Invite them to go on a walk with you around a park.  Nature and fresh air can lighten a person’s mood.  Offer to cook them a meal, or give them a massage.  A massage can release endorphins, which enlightens the mood.

Most importantly, just be yourself – don’t be patronizing.  Depression is a long-term illness.  Just because you may not be suffering from depression does not make you better than your partner, and it does not make your partner any less of a person.  It just means they need help – your help, as well as professional help.  We could all use some help once in a while.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.