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.
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