How to Be Supportive of Your Partner with Mental Illness

Mental health and relationships: How to support a partner with mental illness

If you think your partner may be suffering from a mental health condition, your first step is to pay attention to the signs in order to help them get the right diagnosis and treatment.
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It is difficult to watch someone suffer from mental illness, especially the people you love. There could be days when you feel helpless, confused and sad seeing your loved one with mental health issues. A mental illness can consume a person whole if left unaddressed. Not just the person who’s suffering but also those around them.

Many relationships break under the weight of a mental illness, especially when there is a lack of understanding and support. If your partner is dealing with a mental issue, they need your support and patience more than anything. A simple assurance that you are there for them can be enough to get them through their darkest times.

Helping your partner through their struggle with mental illness doesn’t call for elaborate gestures of love or major clinical interventions. In most cases, the best support strategies are the ones that come from the heart. Patience is key here, and although your partner is not looking for a saviour or healer, simple things such as lending an ear to listen and offering unconditional support can go a long way in making them feel better.

Let’s take a closer look at what you can do when your partner is struggling with a mental health issue.

Understand the situation

Is your partner no longer enjoying the things they used to? Does their mood seem erratic of late? Are they not taking care of themselves? Mental illness can make people behave in strange and unfamiliar ways. However, you must do your research and identify the signs of a mental illness before you intervene. If you are just following a whim or someone else’s opinion, it is a good idea to gain more information about your partner’s condition. Read books and check out websites on mental health disorders and ask your doctor about possible treatment options.

Encourage healthy communication

Yes, talking about mental health can indeed help but only when your partner is ready. Trying to put pressure on your partner to share their feelings is not the right approach. Be patient and open to listening when they do want to talk. Once they open up, don’t interrupt them or give unsolicited advice. Good communication here means staying calm, and letting them speak from their heart.

Suggest seeking diagnosis and treatment

Mental illness seldom gets better without treatment and may deteriorate if left unattended. With the right approach, however, your partner can start getting better. Tell your partner that they need professional help without upsetting them or turning them against the idea. Let them know why you’re concerned and explain that their mental illness is a medical condition that can improve with treatment. Make sure to keep the discussion strictly between you and your partner.

Express your willingness to help

When someone is suffering from any form of mental illness, they often tend to act as if they don’t need anyone. All mental illnesses including depression and anxiety have one thing in common—shame. This can make your partner push you away even when they are desperate for support. So, be mindful not to smother them with too much attention or instruct them on what to do. Just let them know subtly they are not alone. Offer your help by setting up doctor appointments, accompanying them to therapy sessions and learning more about their mental health condition.

Be patient

Symptoms of mental illness can improve with treatment, however, it takes time. Tracking down the best treatment for your partner may require trying more than one approach. For some people, the symptoms of mental illness disappear soon after the initial stages of therapy. For others, it can take longer. Living with a mental illness for an extended period can take a toll on your partner’s energy level, motivation and passion. Don’t take these changes as a reflection of your partner’s interest in the relationship. Be patient and try to empathise with them as much as you can.

Provide continuous support

A mental illness can give birth to fear, paranoia and low self-esteem. It’s quite possible your loved one might think you are attempting to ‘get rid of them’ because of the uncertainty and stigma associated with the issue. Make sure they understand you are there for them. Offer your unconditional support in the form of giving positive reinforcement, creating a low-stress environment, making plans together, understanding the treatment plan and seeking help.

Take care of yourself

It is impossible to help another person if you don’t help yourself first. That’s why self-care is crucial, especially when attending to a partner’s mental health needs. While supporting your partner is essential, don’t forfeit your own needs, joys and goals in the process. Giving up your hobbies and social life to help your partner will eventually leave you feeling empty and trapped. Talk to family members and trusted friends, and find ways to prevent becoming frustrated, overwhelmed or burned out. Consider talking to a counsellor if you’re struggling to cope with your partner’s mental illness.

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