supporting a partner through mental illness

Supporting a Partner with Mental Illness

It goes without saying that mental illness can put a lot of strain on a relationship. A diagnosis of mental illness may bring challenges and uncertainty and you might find that the dynamics and nature of your relationship with your partner changes.  Alongside concerns for your partner’s wellbeing, you may also experience a sense of loss for the relationship you had.

Providing love, understanding and support can be invaluable to your partner and children during this time. You should also take time to nurture your own wellbeing.  There are services that specifically aim to support partners of those living with a mental illness and you may find that the advice and sense of community offered by such services is of help to you.

Tips for Dealing With a Mentally Unwell Partner

Provide reassurance

A diagnosis of mental illness can be frightening and come with a great deal of uncertainty and fear for the future. Many Australians will experience poor mental health during their lifetime. Despite mental health concerns being very common, your partner may feel ashamed or feel like they have brought undue attention on their family.  The reassurance you offer during this time can help your partner to seek professional support and embrace treatment options.

Educate Yourself

There is a lot of misinformation around mental illness and it important that you educate yourself about the nature of your partner’s illness and how it manifests.  Some of the symptoms may include undesirable behaviours such as irritability, lack of energy or irrational thinking.  Understanding that these behaviours may be symptoms of their illness  may make the behaviours easier to live with.

Advice from mental health professionals will not only assist your partner, but can also be an excellent source of advice and support for yourself.  Your mental health professional will be able to provide you with in depth clinical information, advice on how to support your partner’s specific needs and what role you have to play in their treatment.  Exploring community based carers’ groups and other support networks can also be a great source of information and advice.

Counselling for couples experiencing mental health issues

A key part of this education process is understanding that your partner’s illness is not your fault.  We all wish to provide emotional support and make our partner’s happy and it is understandable that we may feel that we are somehow responsible when our partner is not.

Seeking counselling either on your own or with your partner can help you work through your feelings and help you to communicate with your partner if needed. Often partners of people with mental illness feel like they are constantly in fear of saying the wrong thing or doing something that will ‘set them off’. The temptation can be to ignore legitimate relationship issues or concerns or attribute them to your partner’s mental illness. Keeping the lines of communication open and taking care of your relationship is still as important as always.  Talking through your concerns with a mental health professional can help establish boundaries around behaviour and relationship dynamics.

Looking after yourself

When caring for a loved one with mental illness it is essential to look after yourself.  As in all situations, self care should not be considered a luxury, but rather a necessity. As the old saying goes, you can’t look after anybody else if you don’t look after yourself first. Our earlier blog posts here and here look at self care basics such as getting enough sleep, eating right and finding time for yourself.

Carl Nelms, from Blokes Psychology advises, “It’s absolutely essential to take care of yourself first. We regularly see this, where an individual becomes so focused on taking care of their partners, that they neglect themselves in the process.”

Mental illness does not have to mean the end of a successful relationship. By viewing the illness as a circumstance to be jointly navigated where each partner is responsible for their own wellbeing, seeking appropriate professional support and creating a strategy you can move forward in your partnership.