Asking for a Friend: My partner is depressed but doesn't want to get help

If she did not grow up in a therapy-friendly environment, she may have ideas about what going to therapy means or says about who she is as a person.
Couple in front of wall.
"I think she thinks (therapy) is good for other people but not for her."Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Caroline Moss is an author and host of the podcast "Gee Thanks, Just Bought It," which helps people find the products they need to make life easier, better and more productive. Now with this column, "Asking for a Friend," she's helping people with the advice they need to make life easier, better and more productive. Do you have a question for Caroline? Email us at tmrwadvice@nbcuni.com.

Hi Caroline,

Since the middle of June, I’ve noticed my partner take a turn in her mental health. She’s sleeping more, eating less and generally uninterested in the things that used to bring her joy. I get that those are three major components to depression, but she really doesn’t believe she’s depressed. She just thinks it’s a normal reaction to everything happening in the world. I definitely think that’s part of it, but I also know that she and I were raised to think about therapy very differently. She comes from a traditional Italian family where going to therapy is seen as “weak” (this is something I’ve heard my father-in-law say repeatedly), whereas I grew up in a family where my parents went to therapy and worked hard to destigmatize how my siblings and I approached taking care of our mental health.

I think she thinks it’s good for other people but not for her. I get the sense that she doesn’t judge me for going, but that she wouldn’t really know the first thing about going herself. I want to help her but I don’t want to step on her toes and upset her so I feel like I’m just staying quiet. Is it my place to say, "I think you need to talk to someone?"

Thanks,

Depressed Wife Guy

Hi Depressed Wife Guy,

I am sorry your partner is feeling so sad. She’s right — the entire world is shaking up on high speed and we’re along for the horrible, vomit-inducing ride. I find that the days I spend scrolling through every headline with my head in my hands are the days I feel the worst. I feel guilty when I look away from it, but lately I’ve had to be honest with myself and understand that staring at all the bad news isn’t helping anyone unless I match it with action.

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Yes, OK, it sounds like she’s depressed. In my experience the worst time to try to get someone to shift their inherent belief about something big is when they’re at their worst. Instead of trying to get her to believe you about therapy, try doing some of that research for her. Figure out a few different options for people she can talk to. Do the work of figuring out the cost and prepaying prior so she doesn’t have to deal with the admin work of therapy (which, it seems like you know, can be overwhelming). Present this as an option to talk to someone who isn’t you or someone she’s close with; a neutral party if you will. No strings attached and no pressure.

Part of partnership, as I know you know, is taking on the burden of your partner if they can’t carry it themselves. I think doing a lot of the logistical gymnastics of getting a therapist set up to talk to your wife will help her more than it will be perceived as a toe-step on your part.

It’s just important to let her know that while you are always a safe place for her to turn, you understand there are some things she may not want to share with you, and that’s where a therapist can be helpful. You should also remind her that it’s totally the point! Not knowing too much about how her dad feels about therapy and why, it does seem that maybe she needs a reminder that going to therapy doesn’t mean she’s failing as a partner or that your marriage is failing. Reiterate this. If she did not grow up in a therapy-friendly environment, she may have ideas about what going to therapy means or says about who she is as a person. That’s fair, but it also seems like this would be something she’d benefit from greatly and as her partner, it would be totally within the realm of reasonable to discuss this with her.

Do you have a question for Caroline? Email us at tmrwadvice@nbcuni.com.