What to Do When Your Spouse Is Struggling With Depression

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In this video, David Murray discusses ways in which he learned how to help his wife, Shona, during her battles with depression.

The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the video before quoting.

Ryan Griffith: David, I’d love to hear from you as you all suffered together through Shona’s period of depression. What kinds of lessons did you learn as a husband that you might pass on to others who might have a spouse who’s wrestling with depression?

David Murray: Yes. I was very ignorant. I have to be honest, even though I was a pastor, I was very ignorant of what depression looked like, what it was, how to handle it, and I had very wrong caricatures of the people who got depression. Shona was the last person in the world. She was very bright, extrovert, energetic, type A. They didn’t get depression, did they? Well, she did. And it was a big learning process for me. I did not do well initially, I didn’t see the warning signs, I didn’t take it seriously, didn’t talk about it as we should’ve. And it was really almost too late by the time I really faced up to the seriousness of what was in front of me.

So, I think the first thing that we need to do is educate ourselves. There are many excellent Christian books today on depression, very easily accessible, simple books. You’re never going to be an expert, but just enough to know what to look out for, how to initiate conversations, what not to say, which was something I wish I’d learned.

Also, there’s the importance of checking in with one another. As life goes on, you get less and less time to actually sit down and check in with one another. Children come along. Ministry responsibilities multiply. It’s all good stuff, but then you can be passing one another and you’re just functional but not relational. So, one of the big things we’ve done since then is really have regular check-ins daily. You know, we must have time each day to check in. How are you doing? But then longer term, too, every week, every month, did we go through the thin ice a bit? Okay. What did we do wrong? What did we take on? How do we learn from that? Looking ahead, what does our schedule look like? How can we care for one another? So, you’re really reviewing, previewing, keeping one another accountable, making sure the pace of life is at a level that is definitely giving and serving but is also sustainable and that we’re renewing with one another as well. So, talking with one another, talking to others, that can help us. So, if you’ve got a spouse who is depressed, anxious, burned out, you can’t handle it on your own.

One of the biggest things we did was involve Shona’s dad who’s a very experienced pastor, one of Shona’s colleagues who is a doctor. And that was very helpful objectively, just people outside with experience, seen it all before, and they were able to really give us the basics of how to start rebuilding and addressing some of the issues.

I think also to make it holistic. So, you know, just treating it as a spiritual issue. It may, in some cases, it may be just a spiritual issue. You know, the psalmist David got into a terrible depression through his sin. But a lot of the people I deal with, ministers, pastors, it’s all good stuff they’ve been doing. They’ve not been falling into sin but it’s too much good stuff, and so you have to look at the physical, the emotional, the mental, the moral, the relational, and try and see how are these areas of our humanity, where are we in them, and then also the remedies come in these areas, too. So, we’re looking at causes and cures holistically.

I think also as men we need to really help our wives, if they’re young mothers and not just expect them to carry the whole responsibility. Try and ensure they have a sabbath, if not a whole day off, at least, you know, we can have a half day off each, try and keep our sanity that way and trying, like, when I would come home from pastoral visitation, trying to take the kids away for an hour or two, help getting them to bed, ensuring Shona had time for exercise, meeting with friends. You know, we get a lot of, if we’re pastors especially, and men with very satisfying jobs, we’ve got a lot of reward in our work. For young mothers, it’s sometimes very unrewarding for long periods of time. And so, I think to help them find areas, going out for coffees with friends, exercising, hobbies, just to give them that break that will be renewing and rewarding for them really helps over the long run.

So, I think just to put together all these things in a package and recognize we are all weak and this can happen to the best of us. And I always say this verse, you know, “Let him or her who thinks he stands, beware, lest you fall.” But if we do fall, God has an abundance of means to renew, rebuild, refresh, and reset our lives.

Ryan Griffith: Thank you both very much for sharing your experience and those really helpful observations.