Get a diagnosis — together. Dozens of health conditions — including heart disease, diabetes, lupus, viral infections, and chronic pain — can trigger the same symptoms as depression. So can scores of prescription medications, including some birth-control pills and drugs that treat acne, herpes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cancer. Your family doctor can rule out underlying causes and decide whether or not it’s really depression.
Ask your spouse if it’s okay for you to attend this evaluation. “When you’re down that low, you may not be able to express what’s going on or even realize what all your symptoms are,” Emily Scott-Lowe notes. “And you may not be able to concentrate on the treatment recommendations your doctor is making. You need an ally in the room.”
Know that the odds are in your favor. As we noted, the success rate of depression treatment is as high as 90 percent. Usually the road back is relatively simple: antidepressants, counseling, or a combination of the two. That said, recovery may take time and patience. There may be an initial trial-and-error period while you try various antidepressants or see whether various therapy techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal counseling, are helpful. The results are worth it.
Find a mental-health counselor for the two of you. Depression affects both of you — and your whole family. The Lowes suggest finding a therapist or counselor who has worked with depression in couples. “You may have issues to deal with individually as the depressed person, and the two of you may have issues to deal with that stem from coping with depression,” Dennis Lowe says. “We found it very helpful to have a counselor we could see together at times and separately at other times.”
Keep on learning about depression. Read books, check out websites, ask your doctor about advances in treatment and understanding of this illness. The more you know, the better you can cope and fight.
Be alert for relapses. About half of all people who suffer a bout of major depression will have a relapse; 75 percent of those will have another relapse; and 90 percent of those will have yet another. Once a first episode passes, many doctors prescribe a maintenance dose of antidepressants to prevent a relapse. Both spouses should also stay alert for signs that the illness is returning.