Getting help for depression

My wife has had heart problems and I think she is depressed. She is reluctant to seek help, but my GP says he can’t do anything unless she contacts him directly. What can I do?

Dr Mike Knapton says:

I find that depression is relatively common among patients with heart disease, and I have often been asked what to do by the spouse of a patient who’s feeling depressed but reluctant to see me as the GP. In my experience, this can be for a variety of reasons. Depression is commonly associated with poor self-esteem and low levels of motivation, and both of these can be a barrier to seeking help. It is also possible that she is concerned about making a fuss or being seen as a burden. The stigma that sadly surrounds depression can also make some people feel reluctant to ask for help.

Depression is a clinical condition, just like heart disease.

Dr Mike Knapton

Depression is a clinical condition, just like heart disease, and needs thorough assessment and treatment. Treatments can be effective and include counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants. However, the first step – recognising the problem and asking for help – is often the hardest.

I am sure your GP is ready to help, but your wife does need to consent to treatment. If she is reluctant to seek support directly, there are a number of alternative steps. We have a number of information resources – we’ve got lots of articles about emotional and mental health online.

Or you can order our booklet Heart to heart: heart disease and your emotional wellbeing. A call to the Heart Matters Helpline (0300 330 3300) might be another useful first step to get more information about her heart problem or the resources available.

It is also likely that your wife will see the GP or practice nurse from time to time for a blood test or to review her medications. You could suggest she takes this as an opportunity to raise any problems or concerns. Cardiac rehabilitation programmes should also cover issues such as stress and emotional health, so if your wife has been invited to one of these, do encourage her to attend. Just telling someone else about the problem can feel like a mighty relief, and is the first step to making a full recovery.

Mike KnaptonMeet the expert

Dr Mike Knapton is Associate Medical Director at the BHF, overseeing the strategic role in helping patients and the public reduce their risk of heart disease. He has more than 30 years' experience as a GP and is a director at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge.

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