How do I give support through health issues?

Q  My husband has been experiencing deteriorating health over the past few years due to a variety of medical conditions. Life has become more difficult for him and I am now concerned about his mental health. He seems to have withdrawn from friends and family over the past few months and I believe he has become depressed. How do I raise this with him and support him in seeking help?

A You have taken the first important step in supporting your husband and that is recognising that something has changed for him. Dealing with the effects of physical conditions can be exhausting and it is understandable that some people may also experience a mental health issue such as depression.

Consider the following when approaching your husband about your concerns:

  • Prepare for your conversation beforehand and what you might say if your husband admits to feeling low or depressed; or if, despite your concerns, he denies there is a problem.
  • Begin the conversation by letting your husband know that you are worried about him because you have seen changes in him over the past few months — describe the changes in terms of behaviours, such as social withdrawal, and things he may have said. You do not need to say “you seem depressed” as this can be quite confronting for some people, especially if they do not identify their symptoms or behaviours in this way.
  • To describe emotional changes, you could use terms such as “low mood”, “irritable” or “snappy” but focus on the changes you have seen, also verbalising that “this is not like you”.
  • If you find your husband is resistant to discussing emotions or changes in mood, you can express concern about some of the physical symptoms that could be associated with depressed mood. This could be a less direct way of admitting that something has changed and may encourage willingness to seek further support. You could talk about changes in sleep patterns, appetite, increased fatigue and any other physical symptom you have noticed that could be connected to mood.
  • If your husband willingly opens up about his emotions, let him know you are available to talk with him about his feelings anytime, but you would also like to support him in talking to a professional about how he feels. This may be a counsellor or his GP.
  • If your husband seems unwilling to discuss emotions but admits to experiencing physical changes, you could suggest you both make an appointment with the GP to review his symptoms. It is important to see a GP who either has a good reputation for acting on mental health concerns or a GP who knows you and your husband well and will pick up on this as an issue. Your husband may be more willing to accept advice from his GP than anyone else initially, especially if this GP is looking after his physical medical conditions.

There is a chance that despite your expressed concerns, your husband may not be ready to acknowledge that something is wrong. You can only raise your concerns and let him know you will support him. It can be frustrating but it is up to your husband to take the next step. If you don’t initially succeed, you could confide in a trusted friend or relative, or even his treating GP and see if they would be willing to talk to your husband about his mental health. Good luck, be patient, keep trying and also, look after yourself too.

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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