Married to Depression: Risks Associated with Stigma and Gender

Spouses of depressed individuals have many roles to fill. Individuals who are married to depressed people find themselves trying to fill the physical and emotional void left by the illness. When depression affects the earning potential of one partner, the spouse must find ways to recoup that lost income. Very often, financial problems arise from depression and this, along with the other emotional and social strains, can cause the spouse of the depressed partner to experience high levels of stress. Having a strong support system and caring relationships is essential to people married to individuals with depression. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with depression and other mental illnesses can erode this support network.

People who live with a depressed spouse have a much higher risk of developing depression than those who do not. Although this relationship has been examined in numerous studies, few have looked at how gender and stigma specifically influence the risk of depression in spouses of mentally ill individuals compared with spouses of physiologically ill people. In an effort to explore these particular dynamics, Qudsia Tariq of the Department of Psychology at the University of Karachi in Pakistan recently led a study involving 35 spouses of psychologically ill individuals and 40 spouses of physiologically ill people.

Tariq found that that both sets of spouses experienced higher levels of depression when their support system was diminished. Also, both sets of spouses were at increased risk of depression when stigma was a factor in the diagnosis, although the levels of depression were clearly higher in the spouses of psychologically ill partners. Tariq believes stigma is a primary factor in this outcome. Families and friends provide essential emotional support to spouses of depressed people. In many societies, the stigma of mental illness extends to the family because it is thought that these conditions are genetic. Therefore, the family members of the depressed individual are also stigmatized and have fewer resources available to them in their greatest time of need. This diminishes their ability to relieve stress and rely on others for emotional and psychological sustenance. Tariq found that this effect was more significant in the wives than in the husbands, perhaps because men are perceived to be emotionally stronger than women. These findings underscore the importance of decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness. “And psychological patients should be treated in a more humanitarian way, and the social support should be increased for the patients and their family members,” added Tariq.

Tariq, Q. (2012). Depression in spouses of patients with psychiatric and physiological disorders. Pakistan Journal of Psychology, 11.1, 15-28.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • stacey


    June 11th, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    You would not believe the number of people who told me to cut my losses and leave when my husband experienced a bad bout with depression a few years ago. Even my parents encouraged me to leave, saying that I did not need to get wrapped up and entangled with those kinds of problems. Like it was something to be ashamed of. I honestly could not believe that there was still so much ignorance and misunderstanding surrounding depression. It was like people did not want to know about it, and when they did, they did not even want me to talk about it. But why? How are we ever going to learn about the realities of depression if we aren’t willing to talk about it with other people? I was kind of shocked, but glad that he and I were not like that, we were willing to seek out support and get him mhelp before it ruined our marriage and our finances too. We were lucky, but I can see how there is definitely a lack of support in society as a whole and how that could be very detrimental for any couple facing this alone.

  • Price


    June 11th, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    Mental illness is still a difficult subject for many people to address and acknowledge. Until we learn to break down those barriers and have open and honest discussions about mental illness, then there is very little improvement and advancement which can be made.

  • archer


    June 12th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    When my wife is depressed, which is a lot of the time, there is rarely anyone there offering to help me.
    I guess because I have always been the primary breadwinner they assume that everything is ok and that we will make it.
    But I am looking for help with the kids, help getting them places, help with dinner, and I must say that I haven’t gotten much of that.
    I don’t know that it’s about me being a man and people think that I will not want their help or if it still all comes down to the fact that people are uncomfortable with mental illness and assume that the best way to deal with it is to ignore it.

  • Myra


    June 12th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    I hate how I feel being around people who are depressed.
    No matter how good you may personally feel, when you around people like this it has a tendency to bring you down too.
    Guess I could never work in therapy.

  • kate


    June 12th, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    never easy to explain or to change the views of lose minded people.and as a result so many people suffer everywhere.I think there is no effective way to control this kind of behavior in people,except everybody monitoring themselves,each one of us!

    only then can we expect relief for hose who have these disorders.I mean come on, you don’t see that happening to most physical disorders,then why psychological?!

  • Beth Rogers

    Beth Rogers

    June 13th, 2012 at 4:32 AM

    feel bad for those who have no one no support no one to help pick up the pieces it must feel pretty lonely to be in those shoes

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.