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Dear Dr. Debra,

My husband's job turned sour six months to a year ago. He's worried he won't be able to find a good new job. I've helped him look, but it's my opinion that he hasn't tried very hard because he's scared to have that worry proved. In the meantime, he's having trouble sleeping and eating. All medical tests have come back fine or neutrally inconclusive. He calls his symptoms a result of "stress." I call it "depression" and am insisting that he do more to get out of his slump, like start seeing a therapist. In the meantime, how do I avoid becoming a horrific nag and keep my sanity around this withdrawn, lethargic creature?

Concerned Wife.

Dear Concerned Wife,

Your husband is definitely showing signs of stress. You're not giving me enough symptoms to know whether or not he has depression. Some signs of depression (for men) are: poor appetite or overeating, insomnia or hypersomnia, low energy or fatigue, a feeling of hopelessness, low self-esteem, poor concentration, difficulty making decisions, and irritability.

You mention that he's had medical tests. Has he (or have you) spoken to his doctor about the possibility of depression? His doctor needs to have this information, so he or she can monitor your husband's condition and judge if he will need medication.

Men tend to receive their sense of self-esteem from their work. Even in today's modern society, men are heavily invested in their role of breadwinner for their families. In these uncertain economic times, male stress and depression has been increasing. When men are stressed, they tend to withdraw into their "caves" and not talk about their problems.

You, as a woman, intuitively feel the need to talk about the situation. Yet, your talking at him will not help, especially if you are using the word "scared." For men to admit fear is shameful for them, and most of the time they will deny the feeling of fear (regardless if they are actually feeling it.) They might even become offended that you are using it in regards to them. Always substitute the word "concerned" for "afraid" or "scared."

Cardiovascular exercise is important for stress and depression. Encourage him to exercise every day. Coax him out for a walk with you. Men do better talking side-by-side rather than face-to-face. Although don't try to get him to talk on your first few walks. You don't want him to feel ambushed.

There are some good books for men and stress/depression. I recommend The Irritable Male Syndrome by Jed Diamond and I Don't Want to Talk About It by Terrence Real. You might get him to read the books, but if not, at least you can read them and share excerpts with him. At least your husband still has a job, instead of being unemployed. Remind him he's no worse off by exploring the job market.

Make the new job search a challenge. Men love challenges. See how fun and creative you both can be. Encourage him to dream big. There are good books on job searching. What Color is My Parachute comes out every year with updated information. Also job counselors might be helpful. I always tell job seekers to pick up the Sunday paper and read the want adds from A to Z, skipping the multiple adds. (You don't have to read about every accountant job.) Go to job search Web sites. See what's out there. There might be jobs he's never even thought of doing, but would be well suited for. And also put the word out through all your family, friends, and contacts.

Once your husband has some solid information, he should show signs of feeling better. If he doesn't, I suggest seeing a counselor. As for you, step back from his situation and focus on your own interests. Nothing keeps a man in his cave like an argumentative or hovering wife. He'll be more inclined to venture out of his cave when he sees you're happy and productive.

Feel free to write me with your questions.

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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