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Patrick Lightens Workload After Wife's Illness

Diane Patrick, the wife of Governor Deval Patrick, is being treated for exhaustion and depression, the governor’s office announced tonight.

The governor ‘‘will work a flexible schedule for the next few weeks in order to spend more time with her and his family,’’ according to a statement.

Aides to Patrick declined to say whether Diane Patrick had been hospitalized, or had suffered from depression or exhaustion in the past.

‘‘The family asks for the prayers and understanding of the public,’’ the statement read. ‘‘We also ask respect for the family’s privacy at this difficult time.’’

A partner at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, Diane Patrick, 55, said when her husband was elected last November that she intended to be more prominent publicly than previous gubernatorial spouses. But she acknowledged she was unsure how to balance the new demands with her legal career.

A regular adviser to her husband, she said she wanted to focus on the issues of early childhood education and domestic violence. However, following appearances during his inaugural in early January, she has not been highly visible in recent weeks.

She was an asset to her husband during his campaign, and was a favorite of his political supporters, who liked her warm, engaging manner.

She was also viewed as a new model for political spouses, given her résumé of high achievement and her obvious partnership with her husband. The governor and his wife appear extremely close. When Patrick was interviewing a candidate to become his top political strategist, he told him he only had one rule when it came to the campaign schedule: Friday is date night with Diane. He also said recently he was in the ‘‘doghouse’’ for not being sufficiently attentive on her birthday.

She met Deval Patrick at the tail end of her stormy first marriage.

During the campaign, she spoke publicly about the violence she had feared from her first husband when they were married. He was ‘‘not a nice man,’’ she told the Globe last summer. ‘‘I was very afraid,’’ she said. ‘‘He said, ‘If you can’t be with me, you’re not going to be with anybody else,’ and that was very frightening.’’

She credited Deval Patrick, who was a law clerk and five years her junior, with helping her to extricate herself from the situation.

‘‘There were times I said to Deval, ‘I don’t know if you want to be with me, because I don’t know what my husband would do to us,’’’ she told the Globe last summer. ‘‘He said, ‘I’m not afraid, and you shouldn’t be either.’’’

‘‘Deval didn’t give me a voice, but he reminded me that I had one, because I had forgotten I did,’’ she said.

After her husband’s election victory in November, she said she was not sure how to handle her new role as governor’s wife. The day after the election, she conducted a conference call for work as her doorbell in Milton was ringing regularly with flower deliveries to congratulate the Patricks on the victory.

‘‘I almost feel like I should go out and try to find a book, ‘First Ladies for Dummies,’’’ she said in an interview the day after the election. ‘‘The people I’ve asked who seem to have some sense of it say, ‘Look, this is something you have to figure out on your own with Deval.’’’

Her husband drew criticism recently when he hired a $72,000-a-year aide for her. His administration said the position was necessary given the volume of speaking requests Diane Patrick was receiving. Last night, Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan said the aide, Amy Gorin, would continue to work on ‘‘research, policy, and scheduling in the governor’s office.’’

Diane Patrick was born in Brooklyn to a political family. Her grandfather was the borough’s first black representative in the New York State Assembly. She attended Queens College of the City University of New York, and Loyola Law School.

The couple has two daughters, one a student St. Andrew’s School in Delaware and the other at New York University.

Dr. Maurizio Fava, director of depression treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that 5 percent of Americans are suffering from a major depressive episode and almost one in five people will experience depression at some point in their lives. Fava said that while he did not know what had caused Diane Patrick’s depression, he said extreme stress is a common trigger, even when the cause of stress is positive, such as Deval Patrick’s election as governor.

‘‘Change can be stressful regardless of whether it is positive or negative,’’ he said, ‘‘because it involves adaptation to a different situation.’’

‘‘Fatigue is a very common symptom of depression,’’ he said, adding that a tendency to suffer from depression commonly runs in families, including a tendency to slip into a major depressive episode — which means being unable to function fully for an extended period — when under stress.

Greg Simon, a psychiatrist for Group Health Cooperative in Seattle and chairman of the scientific advisory board of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, said twice as many women as men are treated for depression, but statistics show that the affliction affects racial and ethic groups more or less equally.

‘‘Someone prominent being treated for depression is not new — what is new and laudable is someone prominent being public about being treated for depression because that helps remove the stigma and helps other people get treatment for themselves,’’ Simon said.

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