Although everybody feels down at times, sad feelings that persist for more than a few days could indicate depression. The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as negative thoughts and feelings that interfere with functioning and daily life. Most people with depression can get better with treatment, but the problem must first be identified. Knowing the symptoms of depression can help you recognize it in your spouse, and allow you to help her by encouraging her to seek treatment. Living with a depressed person can be stressful. Help Guide advises that while you should be supportive toward a depressed spouse, you must also take steps--such as eating properly--to care for yourself as well.
Listen closely to what your spouse is saying. Persistently negative speech--in which your spouse expresses feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness and guilt--typically indicate depression.
Observe your spouse's behavior. Watch for signs that he may be losing interest in things that used to make him happy, and observe his behavior to assess whether he is persistently sad, irritable or lethargic. Try to determine if he is withdrawing from friends, seeing less of his family or avoiding social engagements. Keep a close eye out for reckless, dangerous or self-destructive behavior--such as running red lights or taking other physical risks--which could be a precursor to a suicide attempt. Help Guide notes that reckless behavior arising from depression is more common in men than women.
Look for changes in your spouse's level of irritability and aggression. If your mild-tempered husband suddenly and uncharacteristically flares into anger and provokes an argument, or your normally even-tempered wife becomes unusually critical or moody, it's possible that depression is the real culprit. Although both sexes can react to depression with irritability, the National Institute of Mental Health points out that men are more likely than women to become abusive or angry when depressed.
Take note of how your spouse is sleeping and eating. Major changes in these habits are a classic symptom of depression. According to Help Guide, women are more likely than men to sleep excessively when depressed. Depression can skew eating habits as well. A depressed spouse may exhibit little interest in food; conversely, you may notice your spouse engaging in compulsive and joyless overeating that leads to weight gain; Help Guide notes that the latter symptom is more common in women than men.
Monitor your spouse's intake of alcohol, and look for changes from the norm. Unusual, excessive drinking and increasing use and abuse of both prescription and recreational drugs can signal depression.
Be alert for an increase in medical complaints, especially if they are vague and not resolved by treatment. According to the Institute of Mental Health, persistent headaches, pains and digestive disturbances can all signal depression.
Assess your spouse for risk of suicide by listening to him. Talking about suicide, death or hurting himself is a serious red flag, as are declarations of a longing for death or escape from a current situation. According to Help Guide, you should also be vigilant for pills, weapons and other lethal objects that appear in the house. Particularly dangerous is the situation in which your spouse appears calm and peaceful suddenly; this could be the precursor to a suicide attempt. Giving away cherished items is also a red flag. If you notice any of these serious warning signs of suicide, seek professional help for your spouse immediately.
Resist the temptation to tell your depressed spouse to "snap out of it." Instead, Help Guide recommends making a simple statement of love and support, expressing your desire to help.
Never underestimate the possibility of suicide, especially if your spouse has expressed suicidal thoughts. Help Guide notes that if you believe your spouse is at risk, you should not leave her alone. Immediately call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.