To the outside world, Emme lived
a charmed life. She was a successful model, creative director
of her own clothing line, a television host, lecturer, and mother of
a beautiful baby girl. Only her family and closest friends
knew she was actually dealing with a devastating situation that is
all too familiar to wives across the country: a husband who has
depression but won’t get help.
Phillip Aronson, the wonderful
man she married, found himself in a downward spiral of depression,
even attempting suicide at one point to escape his pain. Phil
was always an energetic partner, excited to go to work each morning
either to the showroom to check on the latest graphic designs for
the Emme line or to attend meetings about some new project.
He was a caring and loving father. But as depression enveloped
him, Phil “had no energy, no appetite, no drive…and this was in
sharp contrast to how he usually was. He was depriving himself
of everything, and when you don’t nourish yourself —physically,
intellectually, or emotionally—your body tends to shut down.”
In their recently released book
written in both their voices, Morning Has Broken, A Couple’s Journey
Through Depression, Emme says, “No one knew what it was like, to be
caught up in it like we were…it’s a lonely thing to be married to a
man in the depths of a depression with an infant daughter at home…it
was all about getting through each day. I never felt more
alone.” Soon, Emme realized he could not even watch their
daughter, Toby, and everything changed: the logistics of running the
household and her ability to work. Emme writes that every day
they lost a little piece of Phil, and during the worst period,
somebody needed to be with Phil at all times, “and that somebody
needed to be me.”
Men and Depression
U.S. statistics state that women
experience depression much more frequently than men: 1 out of every
4 to 5 women, compared to 1 out of every 8 to 10 men. However, many
experts feel these statistics are simply wrong. “Men experience
depression probably just as much as women, but they aren’t
diagnosed,” explains Julie Totten, President and Founder of Families
for Depression Awareness, a non-profit national organization.
“Depressed men often get angry at others and abuse alcohol or drugs.
Depressed women on the other hand may blame themselves, but then
they ask their doctor for help.”
The consequences of untreated
depression are serious and sometimes fatal. Depression is a leading
cause of disability so many men can’t work. Depression also puts men
at a high risk for suicide; they are four times more likely to take
their lives than women.
Signs of Depression to look
for in men:
Acting depressed, irritable
or angry almost every day
Losing interest in
pleasurable activities or hobbies
Talking of death or suicide*
Talking very negatively
Acting unreasonably, without
concern for others
Abusing alcohol or drugs
Picking fights, being
irritable, critical, or mean
Withdrawing from family and
Having trouble at work or
Talking suddenly about
separation or divorce
Complaining of aches and
Eating too little or too
Sleeping too much or too
* If someone is suicidal, treat
it as a medical emergency. Call the person’s clinician, or call 911
or take him to your local hospital emergency room.
When husbands have depression,
it can tear apart their marriage and family. Wives may take over and
hope the problem will go away, or on the opposite end, withdraw,
feeling betrayed and angry. More often, they alternate back and
forth between these behaviors and emotions. Fifty percent of wives
caring for a depressed husband will develop depression themselves.
The good news is that depression
is highly treatable. Once diagnosed, most people who get help
report substantial relief.
The problem is that many men
deny they are depressed and resist treatment (usually medication
and/or talk therapy). Their belief: depression is a woman’s
Depression Affects Everyone
Dealing with a depressed husband
who is in denial is not easy. But, by not addressing the issue, your
husband continues to be ill or get worse, even suicidal, and you
lose out as well. Depression makes men feel like they are worthless
and hopeless. They can’t change how they feel without treatment.
“Depression isn’t just your husband’s problem; it’s your problem and
your children’s too. Luckily, there are ways to address the
issue,” Totten explains. “The top priority is to get your husband
into treatment. You have to ask yourself, ‘What have I got to lose?’
You simply need to take action for everyone’s sake.”
Terrence Real, a psychotherapist
and author of I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret
Legacy of Male Depression, offers his perspective, “Women in a
relationship with a depressed man feel faced with a painful dilemma.
They can either confront the man with his depression – which may
further shame him – or else collude with him in minimizing it, a
course that offers no hope for relief.” He offers some strong
advice to women, “You absolutely have the right, even the
obligation, to put your foot down. You have to insist on good
health in your family. It serves no one any good to back off;
go to the mat on this issue. It affects your husband and
marriage, and absolutely your children.”
He reminds women, “Remember, you
are still married and at one time he listened to you. Don’t be
afraid to make this a fight…this is no time to stand on ceremony.
Make a doctor’s appointment, go out to dinner afterwards, be
romantic, or bribe him; whatever it takes.”
What Wives Can Do
Totten was able to help her
father get diagnosed and treated for depression; but only after
tragically losing her brother to suicide over fifteen years ago
because he was never diagnosed. She realized her dad was
exhibiting signs of depression and started Families for Depression
Awareness, after finding no help for families who wanted to get
involved in a relative’s treatment.
Totten says she had to call her
father’s doctor and tell him her father had depression. But she
didn’t know how to get him to see the doctor. “Finally, my dad said
he thought he had the flu, but he didn’t. I agreed with him and was
able to get him to the doctor under this pretense.”
With a resistant spouse, Totten
believes women need to take a similar tack. “Call the doctor
and explain that your husband has depression. Explain what the
symptoms are. Then, make the appointment for him. Go with him.
If he resists, ask him to do it just for you, to make you feel
Anne Sheffield, author of
Depression Fallout, www.depressionfallout.com, agrees with Totten.
“Denial is very common, particularly in men. They think
depression is a sign of weakness, or someone with it is mentally
defective.” She reinforces that wives should not be accusatory
and instead need to address different behaviors, like sleep
problems, “It’s better not to say: I think you have depression.
He is most likely to come back with `If anyone’s depressed it’s
She points out even though men
may willingly go to talk therapy, sometimes they are unwilling to
take any sort of medication because of a possible loss of libido.
“He doesn’t want to be stuck with no sex drive.” Sheffield
stresses to try different or a mix of medications and “tell your
husband to give it at least six weeks to work.”
How to Help Your Husband
See a doctor. Ask your
husband to see a medical professional, offer to make the
appointment, and make sure to go with him or call the medical
professional in advance to state his symptoms.
Reach out. Find other people
to help you get your husband into treatment, including
mental health professionals such as a psychiatrist,
psychologist, or social worker.
Show you care. Depressed men
feel isolated in their pain and hopelessness. Listen and
sympathize with his pain.
Talk about the depression’s
impact on you and your children. Your relationship,
including intimacy, household responsibilities, and finances,
are also adversely affected when your husband is depressed.
Get educated. Read a
brochure, Family Profiles (see www.familyaware.org), or a book,
or watch a video on depression and share the information with
Use the Mood Questionnaire.
Go through the confidential and anonymous Mood Questionnaire
(see www.familyaware.org) with your husband that will guide him
toward medical help.
Seek immediate help If at
any time your husband talks about death or suicide or may be
harmful to you or others, seek immediate help. Contact your
doctor; go to your local emergency room, or call 1-800-suicide
What not to do
Men with depression are
suffering from a medical condition, not a weakness of character. It
is important to recognize their limitations.
Do not dismiss their
feelings by saying things like “snap out of it” or “pull
Do not force someone who is
depressed to socialize or take on too many activities that can
result in failure and increased feelings of worthlessness.
Do not agree with negative
views. Negative thoughts are a symptom of depression. You need
to continue to present a realistic picture by expressing hope
that the situation will get better.
Laura Rosen, PhD, co-author of
When Someone You Love Is Depressed, says wives need to educate their
husbands. “Leave brochures out; highlight a section so he has
some understanding.” She suggests, “I’ve noticed you don’t
seem yourself…it would help me if you talk about it; I’m up at night
and really anxious.” Collaborate together and then go so
far as to get a consultation, get a name, and make an appointment.”
Another way to get husbands
educated is to have them take an anonymous depression questionnaire,
like the Mood Questionnaire on www.familyaware.org, a quick screen
for depression as well as for bipolar disorder and/or suicidal
Steve Lappen, a writer and
support group leader, who has himself been treated for bipolar
disorder (manic depression), recommends that husbands watch the Real
Men, Real Depression online video from the National Institute of
Mental Health (NIMH). The film includes ‘tough guys’ such as a
firefighter, a retired Air Force sergeant, and a police officer. The
video shows men that depression is a treatable medical condition,
not a sign of weakness and gives permission to men to ask for help.
According to Lappen, “Men won’t even ask for driving
directions, so we must let them know asking for help for depression
is OK. Reaching out is a sign of strength, not of weakness.”
With Treatment, Relationships
Because depression ran in Phil’s
family, Emme says, “Depression was the last thing Phil wanted to
admit to.” His father’s mother had been in and out of depression for
most of her life and relatives described her as ‘quirky’.
Phil’s grandmother also had a sister who was institutionalized and
lived out her days in the psych unit. Back in those days they
didn’t diagnose depression by name; the ‘quirkiness’ ran in the
family to include a couple of cousins as well.
Finally, Emme asked Phil’s
brother, Seth, who had depression on how to help get Phil into
treatment. Ultimately, their family doctor reached out to
them. He had helped Seth get through his depression in 1986
and had been helping the family deal with Phil’s other brother,
Jonathan, living with brain cancer.
It was at the end of a family
session with the doctor that Seth stepped in and asked to spend time
on what was going on with Phil. It was almost like an
intervention. Emme says, “We all turned to Phil and said, ‘We
love you, you’re here. You are clearly depressed.” They
left Phil in the room with the doctor to discuss it. This was the
beginning of Phil facing his depression through a combination of
talk therapy and medication.
But this was not yet the happy
ending. Emme threw herself into being Phil’s caregiver, even
at times explaining to his doctor the status of treatment, symptoms
and behavior. She offers concrete suggestions to other wives:
learn everything you can about the illness; get a clear, medicine
container to keep track of daily dosages when it is too overwhelming
for your husband, make a chart listing his moods. Her biggest
suggestion is to carry around one notebook at all times dedicated to
your spouse’s treatment. She also suggests telling
well-meaning friends and family to keep their private feelings about
therapy and medication to themselves. Phil eventually had to
turn to ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy), and is now recovered.
Emme says, “It was our last resort and it was a lifesaver.”
Most importantly, Emme’s message
is one of hope and survival. “My story is just one of many
that are happening every day around the world.” Although their
heavenly life turned into a living hell, Emme and Phil, along with
untold other couples, conquer depression together and look forward
to a new beginning in their relationship.
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