Many individuals will experience a mental health issue in their life. With the current pandemic and seemingly never-ending restrictions, this issue has become more prevalent than ever. Being in a relationship with someone who deals with mental illness presents unique problems for both parties.
Watching someone you care for suffer can be extremely difficult, and it’s only natural to want to help in any way you can. Understanding the needs of your partner is challenging, and many people who are dealing with this problem find themselves at a loss when it comes to strategies of helping their significant other cope. This article provides suggestions as to how you can help support your partner through mental illness.
Start the conversation
Before you can help your partner deal with mental illness, it’s necessary to establish what the issue is first. Mental illness affects people in different ways, and one person’s experience may differ greatly from someone else’s. Therefore, if you and your partner can discuss how this issue specifically impacts them, it’ll allow you to help them to the best of your ability. Discussing triggers and already established coping methods will also improve your ability to support them, as it allows you the knowledge to avoid making things worse and the power to take an active role in your partners recovery.
While it’s important to understand how it specifically affects your partner, it doesn’t hurt to educate yourself on mental illness in general. This can help you know how to de-escalate a situation should it come to that, spot symptoms and signs of worsening mental health, and perhaps even provide ideas of coping mechanisms that you could then suggest to your partner.
Consider outside help
Although you may try your best to support your partner, it’s important to encourage them to consider outside help. It’s also crucial to know when outside intervention is necessary. This could mean seeing a psychiatrist, starting medication or even couples therapy to work through issues inside the relationship. Remind your partner that there is no shame in reaching out for help and frequently assure them that they’re doing the right thing.
Realize you can’t ‘fix’ the issue
It’s important to understand that many people will never fully recover from their mental illness, and it is not your responsibility to fix or get rid of someone’s mental health issues. There may not be any kind of solution to this issue, only ways to cope. Attempting to get rid of someone’s mental health problems can come across as dismissive and could cause more problems than it solves. Understand that recovery means consistent effort, and that there is no final destination in regard to mental health.
Look after yourself
While helping your partner through mental illness, it’s crucial not to neglect your own needs as an individual. Remember to keep working on your own issues, take time for yourself and don’t stop doing activities that you enjoy. Set healthy boundaries and be realistic about how much of your time you can give to your significant other. You can support your partner better if you’re in a good state both mentally and physically.
Keep communication open
Communication is key. Ensure your partner feels heard and understood, and that any worries can be voiced before they escalate further. Check in on how they’re feeling after arguments and try to make it clear that they can speak to you when they need to. Ask how they are and be prepared to listen. Without judgement and without trying to force advice onto them, really try to understand the situation and ask if you can do anything to support them further. Often, specific questions such as “do you need me to buy anything when I go shopping?” can be more useful than “let me know if you need anything”, as a person who is going through something distressing may not know what they require from you or what you can do to assist.
The little things matter
Things that might be easily overlooked (such as small gestures, praise and routine) may mean the world to someone who suffers from a mental illness. Reassurance of the relationship and your love for them can help to provide security and stability they might otherwise lack, and offering to help with overwhelming tasks will allow more time for self-care and enjoyable activities. Encourage good hygiene and praise small victories. Attempt to stick to routine and encourage your partner to partake in healthy habits.
It’s important to work on your relationship outside of the mental illness, and to not let it consume the partnership you have. Continue to spend quality time together, express your feelings adequately and keep the spark alive.
It’s crucial to know when it’s appropriate to contact emergency services. If you believe your partner is a danger to themselves or others you should contact 999 or 111 (UK). Mental health helplines are available 24/7 for advice and support.
Featured image credit: University of Colarado Boulder