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Dear Dr Jane

December 19, 2017 December 2017, Regular Features No Comments

Dear Dr Jane
My husband is a farmer and I am worried that he is depressed. He is struggling to solve fairly simple problems on the farm and has lost all of his spark and enjoyment in life. He won’t talk to anyone about it and my hunch is that he is concerned about what people would think if he admitted that he was not coping. He has always liked to think of himself as strong and able. What can I do to help him?

Dear Worried
I’m glad you have written in as this is a very important topic to talk about. We all have a physical health and most people are generally okay with discussing physical health concerns with the appropriate professionals. What is less accepted is that we all have a mental health as well. As with our physical health, our mental health sometimes becomes compromised or temporarily ill.

This is a universal experience. It does not mean that an individual is weak or does not have a “back-bone”. It means that the biological mechanisms that support our ability to engage with the world in a meaningful way are not working in an optimal way.

It would be really helpful if your husband was able to talk to his GP about what is going on for him, and the different treatment options available. But first he has to agree to go. That is where partners can be really beneficial. You can’t force a competent adult to seek medical assistance, but you can be a sounding board off which your husband can talk through his reasoning process for deciding to go to the GP or not.

Sometimes low mood can negatively impact a person’s thought processes and so it will be helpful if you can challenge any distortions your husband has. For example, predictions that no-one will be able to help (without a superpower to see into the future how does he know no-one will be able to help?) or fear that people will think he is “crazy” (however periodic low mood is a universal experience over one’s lifespan so no-one will think that he is abnormal or crazy).

Try and frame the visit to the GP as a short experiment to collect information that may help him get back to his normal. If he is not in a frame of mind to do this for himself, is he able to talk to the GP for your peace of mind? Sometimes people in a depressive state devalue themselves but are still willing to do things for the good of others. This is not manipulation; it is utilising what psychological reserves are operating for a person in need.

Dr Jane Freeman-Brown, MNZCCP
Registered Clinical Psychologist

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