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(Vladimir Nikulin/iStock)
(Vladimir Nikulin/iStock)

My wife is depressed but refuses to see a therapist. What can I do? Add to ...

The question

My wife is fundamentally against the idea of counselling - she’s depressed, unsatisfied with life and has serious body image issues. But I think she needs to see an expert. How can I convince her it’s a good idea?

The answer

It can frustrating and saddening for any of us to see someone we love being unhappy and struggling with life. We can often feel helpless in not being able to improve our loved one’s emotional state, particularly if we feel we have exhausted the avenues we have available to us. Certainly there can be a number of positive benefits that many people can experience from seeing and receiving treatment from an objective, neutral and trained mental health professional.

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That being said, the first point I would like to underscore is that it is not your role to “convince” your wife to seek out counselling. Your role as a partner is, first and foremost, to serve as a source of unconditional support. I do not mean at all to convey that she does not need or would not benefit from counselling, but the way that you approach this discussion is key.

All too often I see well-meaning partners who will “tell” or “try to convince” their partner to seek out counselling, but this message can be interpreted as critical (rather than supportive).

I would suggest that you start by have a genuine, heart-to-heart conversation with her. If possible, be mindful of timing this conversation on a day and time when both of you have dedicated and uninterrupted time to speak, free of other distractions.

Convey your love and concern for her. Focus on communicating how you feel, and be specific about what you have noticed (e.g., “I feel saddened when I see you looking upset and tearful...”). Avoid making assumptions about how she is feeling (e.g., “I think you are depressed and need help”) as this may come across as accusatory or judgmental.

Ask what you can do to help and support her. Focus on directing the conversation toward what she feels she needs, and what she thinks would be helpful.

You say she is “fundamentally against” the idea of counselling, and I would try to understand where this comes from. Has she had negative or unhelpful experiences with mental health professionals in the past?

Does she feel shame or stigma about having to seek out help? Is she unclear about what role a professional would play? Does she feel hopeless that treatment would not help? This may provide a better understanding of where she is coming from, and may help guide you towards ways that you can more effectively support her.

Finally, offer to go with her to an initial appointment, no-strings attached. Maybe she's afraid and unsure about the process. Let her know that you see this as a family issue, and that if she is feeling unwell emotionally that impacts you.

Emphasize that your goal is to help and support her, in whatever way possible.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at psychologist@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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