Helping Husband with Major Depression

Reader’s Question

My Husband has major depression. He is very angry and “hates everything”. He is on medication and attends counselling, however he is very controlling over me. He wants me to stop seeing my family (because he had an argument with my sister) and tries to control who sees our child, and I know he has checked my phone and checked up on my coming and goings. I am not afraid of him as in he would not hurt us physically, but this controlling is really getting me down and because of the depression he can’t see this. He is very paranoid, and I am just wondering should I give in to his demands for an easy life or stand my ground as I feel standing my ground will show that the depression is a major problem and cannot be allowed to stay in our home.

Psychologist’s Reply

People who are severely depressed are often overwhelmed by feelings of insecurity, loss of self-esteem, and a sense that their world is falling apart. As a reaction, they become suspicious, socially sensitive, and controlling. They interpret the behavior of those around them very personally — as though each behavior or comment was either for them or against them — and they keep score! They become so narrow-minded that they often fail to see anyone’s view of the situation other than their own. He would view any attempt to contact your sister as being disloyal, ignoring your life-long relationship with her for example.

Jealousy is often a part of depression. All depressions contain what I call the “garbage truck” of negative thoughts. In his depression, he recognizes he’s not the man you married and may now feel you are trying to leave him. Some thoughts:

  • Giving in to the depressive control and jealousy doesn’t improve the situation. It can actually make it worse in the long term. He would like nothing more than to socially isolate the family under his control. While that would make him feel safer, it would create significant problems with the family.
  • The key is developing a strategy to deal with his behavior. As you mention, focus on the depression and how it needs to be controlled, not the family. Take extra time to make him feel less insecure. Rather than say “I’ll be back in a while” when leaving, list your various errands.
  • I’ve got some concerns that his medications may need an adjustment. If his medication is being prescribed by a family physician, he may need to see a psychiatrist. Family MDs typically prescribe one medication, while psychiatrists focus on medication combinations to address all depressive symptoms. Ask your husband if you can accompany him to his physician or counsellor. Discuss his control issues as a symptom.
  • While jealousy by definition is unrealistic, be alert for clinical paranoia. Paranoia can become delusional and some people with Major Depression experience delusional thoughts. If he talks about being watched, plotted against, poisoned, or mentions something that is very far-fetched — refer him to a psychiatrist immediately.
  • When he protests normal family activity, ask him what is needed to make him feel safe. With your sister contacts, for example, assure him that he will not be discussed. Keep in mind that depressed minds are going 100 miles per hour.
  • I have two handouts on my website at www.drjoecarver.com that might be helpful — Understanding Depression & Chemical Imbalance. Both contain additional information about the clinical and family treatment of depression.

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