Living with a mental illness is difficult. Supporting a partner who has a mental illness can sometimes be just as tough. Luckily, you’re not alone.
1. Seek Support for Yourself (even if you don’t have a mental illness)
In 2017, roughly 10% of people worldwide suffered from a mental illness. All of those people have friends, partners, and loved ones who are impacted by their struggle. When you are suffering because of your partner’s mental illness, it’s best not to vent to your partner about it. Guilt over the stress they give you is toxic to their recovery.
Seeing your partner suffer negatively affects your mental health. Therefore, it is important for your partner and you to both seek mental health support, like therapy. One on one therapy in a private practice isn’t possible for everyone. Most communities provide free or discounted mental health services. You just need to know how to access them! The National Alliance for Mental Health, for example, provides free group therapy for both mental illness sufferers, and those who support them. NAMI has offices all over the United States.
2. If You Don’t Have the Same Mental Illness, Don’t Give Advice
If your partner needs advice on how to cope with their mental illness, finding a licensed therapist is their best bet! If you do not have the same mental illness as them, it is impossible to understand what your partner is going through. Therefore, anything that has worked for you probably won’t work for them. They may have even tried your suggestion before and become unintentionally frustrated with you.
It is important for mental illness sufferers to have loved ones they can share with. You want them to trust you so they will come to you in an emergency. The best way to encourage this trust is to have empathy and patience. Try saying things like “That sounds difficult, I’m sorry you have to go through that,” rather than giving advice. Try asking questions like, “What can I do to best support you through this?” and give them a chance to give you a way to help!
3. Mental Illnesses are Forever: Prepare Yourself for the Long Haul
Here’s the thing: mental illnesses don’t go away. Your partner can enter periods of recovery where they will live healthy, balanced lives. Just remember, it is not a choice or a failure if their symptoms relapse. Medications stop working, therapists change practices, and traumatic experiences can trigger a mental illness. Even if it has been lying dormant for years.
Work with your partner to build a network of support and a foundation of self love. Mental illnesses can put a strain on relationships. However, with the right support, making mental health central to your relationship can strengthen it.