How can I cope better when my partner has depression, anger outbursts, and brooding?

Doctor's Answers (2)

Dr Beng Yeong Ng

"Psychiatrist with over 20 years of experience"

It looks like you are in a very challenging situation. It is indeed hard to strike a balance as you not only have to care for your depressed spouse but also take care of your child’s needs and your own emotional and physical health. Depression oftentimes not only affects the individual but the family and loved ones as well. May I offer a few suggestions or pointers:

First, when your partner goes to see his doctor or psychiatrist, you may want to accompany him and let the doctor know about his condition and behaviour at home. The psychiatrist may have to modify his treatment plans to address some of the issues that you highlight.

It seems like he has problems managing his anger and irritability. Anger management has to be explored. Mood stabilisers may also be considered to augment the effects of any antidepressant. In my clinical practice, I would consider inpatient treatment if the person has aggressive behaviour at home or is suicidal.

Second, you need to get help for yourself too. You may want to seek medical advice from your family physician or a mental health professional. Many caregivers have burnout as they focus on helping their loved ones but fail to attend to their own emotional needs. You need to be well first before you can take others.

Caring for a partner with depression is emotionally taxing for the caregiver. It’s important to practice self-care and increase your own support network during this time. Talking to a social worker at the mental health setting may also be useful.

Third of all, it would certainly help if your child can open up to someone, e.g., a counsellor or social worker.

An important first step in helping your partner is to understand the disease. Symptoms of depression oftentimes vary and change over time. The best way to understand how your partner experiences depression is to ask open-ended questions and use empathic listening.

When talking with your partner, it will be good not to offer quick suggestions but to allow him to share more about the difficulty and struggles that he has. He, for instance, may have remorse and guilt feelings after an outburst, but at the same time struggles to contain his anger.  

All too often, people feel that they just have to will themselves better, but depression seldom improves without treatment. You can help your partner by encouraging treatment and being there during appointments.

A helpful strategy is to create a low-stress environment. Routines can help depressed people feel more in control of their day-to-day lives. Consider creating a daily schedule to handle meals, medications, and chores.

Also, it will great to make plans together. Depression can cause a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. To that end, depressed people sometimes avoid social interactions. Make a weekly date to watch a movie, go for a walk or cycle together. Start small to help your loved one begin socializing again.

Lastly, it is equally important to give positive reinforcement. When people feel hopeless, they tend to judge themselves harshly. Be sure to point out the strengths and areas of improvement to help your partner see progress.

The risk of suicide is always elevated during major depressive disorder. It is important to know the red flags and get immediate medical assistance:

You need to take good care of your own emotional health too, as you are clearly suffering from care-giver stress. Otherwise, if both parents become depressed, who will care for your child? I suggest that you see a mental health professional for assessment and discussion of treatment options. This will include learning how to cope better and how to help and protect your child.

We also have mental health support groups in Singapore, including for caregivers. You can contact the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

Most importantly, if there is a risk of violence or you feel threatened, you can apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO) at the police station. 

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