Researchers interviewed 90 married people, including gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples, about their experiences with having one in the relationship undergo mental health difficulties like depression and anxiety. They talked about how they knew their partner was depressed and how they responded to the situation. The majority of gay and lesbian spouses and under half of straight folks active encouraged their partners to seek professional help for their mental health struggles. Meanwhile, more than half of straight spouses did not suggest formal treatment and viewed their partner’s mental health issues as something to be handled by themselves.
These non-regulating spouses conceptualized the symptomatic spouse’s mental health as a serious issue but did not promote mental health care as they believed a spouse would be unwilling to go, it was a spouse’s issue to deal with alone or something the spouse was incapable of addressing. Thus, besides not encouraging mental health care, little encouragement or support was offered around the mental health symptoms in these couples.
Why talk to a depressed significant other? It is always wise to be an active support system for your partner, according to relationship therapists.
If you notice that your partner seems depressed or anxious, first ask them directly. Tell them what you observe and ask them how they feel. Often they are aware that they are struggling, but it takes another to reflect to them that they seem to dislike themselves.
This is especially true for men, researchers found. Past studies show straight men generally ignore their own and their partners’ health problems, especially when it comes to mental health problems due to the lingering stigma around professional mental health care. Stigmatization is especially consequential for heterosexual men who likelier equate mental health care with weakness, researchers note. That may explains why gay and lesbian couples are far likelier to get involved and support their partner’s mental health.
Happily, these days the mental health stigma is quickly deteriorating. Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are all too common among adults. Literally 20 percent of the American population have a mental illness. Thus, getting treatment for mental illness is not shameful; rather, it is just as logical as addressing any physical illness. Moreover, you (and your partner) shouldn’t have to simply cope with these sufferings when there are scientifically proven treatments available that can alleviate or eliminate what they’re going through. If you can live without feeling so miserable and out of control all the time and have the means to access the care to get there, why wouldn’t you?
Some situations need professional help. If your partner expresses suicidal thoughts, uses drugs or alcohol excessively, or struggles to get out of bed to start their day, bring in the extra family support as well as a professional therapist.
The decision to seek mental health care is typically viewed as an individual decision, yet among the married, decisions of if and when to seek mental health care likely occur at the couple level, with spouses playing a key role in how individuals view and participate in mental health care. Since barriers in getting mental health care exist, like the stigmatization of mental illness, spouses may play a further role in de-stigmatizing mental health problems by promoting or encouraging mental health care.
How to have the conversation. The study’s findings clearly show that partners can play a huge role in supporting each other through mental health struggles and promoting professional care as a vital step in the process.
So, encourage your partner to talk to someone. An outside observer may need to tell them that they are struggling and proven options are readily available like talk therapy
By encouraging your partner to seek out help, become actively engaged in ensuring they taking part in some key self-care rituals, many of which reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. Encourage a partner who is having a hard time doing smaller types of self-care such as taking a walk, working out, taking a nap, reading a book, doing yoga or practicing meditation, going to a movie. Also, make sure your partner feels that you are looking out for them and that you truly care.