“People expect the signs of depression to be really obvious; they think, ‘If my partner is going to work every day and not weeping constantly, he or she is probably fine,'” says Rebecca Parrish, MA, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist.
But that’s not always the case, because there are more subtle symptoms of depression that can easily go unnoticed. If you suspect that your partner is depressed, Parrish says that it’s important to communicate effectively and compassionately. “Affirm their experience. Say, ‘I can see you’re having a hard time,’ and ask what you can do to support them.”
Often, spouses do just the opposite and tell their partner that something is wrong with him or her, which is accusatory and causes more stress for the depressed partner, says Parrish. Instead, own what you say to them by simply acknowledging what you’ve noticed— try not to label their experience. And while noticing unusual behavior that lasts a week isn’t necessarily cause for concern, symptoms that persist for two weeks or longer usually signal that it’s time to get help, says Irina Firstein, LCSW, individual and couples therapist in Manhattan.
Below, therapists help us pinpoint the sneaky signs of depression. As always, consult a professional for a proper diagnosis. (Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up to get healthy living tips and more delivered straight to your inbox!)
Depressed people tend to seek solitude because everything in life feels like such a huge effort, and they might feel embarrassed about it. “If your partner is someone who is social, and all of a sudden you see them isolating or escaping into solitary activities, that could be a sign of depression,” says Firstein. Signs of withdrawal might include sleeping more and watching television more often. Look out for any other escape patterns that seem uncharacteristic.
Depression is exhausting. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to complete daily tasks. It’s like pushing a boulder up a hill,” Firstein says. This fatigue may also be caused by changes in sleep patterns, which tend to be associated with depression. In fact, research suggests that insomniacs are 10 times more likely to develop depression than those who sleep normally.
Has your punctual partner developed a new habit of being tardy? There might be more to the story. “Many depressed people have a difficult time getting motivated to do anything and can begin to run late; many depressed people also have trouble getting up in the morning as they feel immobilized by their sadness and fatigue,” says Kat Van Kirk, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist.
It might feel like your partner has an extra short temper all of a sudden. That’s because feeling stressed or overwhelmed can cause rapid emotional shifts, and depression heightens emotions, which makes them more easily brought to the surface. On the flip side, your spouse’s responses may seem unusually flat, due to the fact that everything feels like it requires too much energy.
Is your partner gaining or losing weight unexpectedly or putting less effort into their daily routine? Changes in weight are remarkably common for depressed individuals as a result of emotional undereating or overeating. “Sometimes, lack of pride in appearance—from not shaving to not wearing makeup—could be a symptom,” says Van Kirk.
Your dry spell might not be part of the normal ebb and flow of a relationship. “Lack of interest in sex can be a sign of withdrawal,” says Van Kirk. This depressive sign can be tricky to spot, because there are so many other factors that could put a damper on your love life—busy schedules, hormone fluctuations, you name it. But what’s going on with mood can be a major cause. The brain is a sex organ—desire starts in the brain and is communicated through neurotransmitters which stimulate blood flow to the sex organs. In a depressed person, these neurotransmitters are unable to communicate effectively. On top of that, depression can also cause both partners to feel disconnected, which can make sexual intimacy even more challenging.