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Mental illness is quickly becoming the most pressing health crisis of the 21st century. Ever-increasing numbers of individuals both young and old are being diagnosed with conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to ADHD and addiction. Our isolated, success-oriented culture appears to be triggering or worsening mental health conditions for many, too.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who is struggling with mental illness, you and your partner may sometimes find it difficult to cope. Though maintaining a happy and healthy relationship in spite of serious mental health problems can be challenging, it can certainly be done. To best support your partner’s mental health and well-being, consider the following tips.
There are many damaging misconceptions surrounding mental illness. From misunderstanding causes to believing negative stereotypes about certain conditions, being poorly informed will hinder your ability to support your partner. Instead of relying on hearsay and forum posts on the internet, seek out a medical professional with your partner and ask them the most pertinent questions regarding the given diagnosis and potential treatment options. For additional information, seek out published literature or online resources shared by professional, reputable sources. By getting informed about your partner’s diagnosis, you can better determine the ways in which you can support them and their needs.
Be Supportive, Patient & Understanding, Not Enabling
Dealing with mental illness can be scary. Whether your partner has just received a diagnosis or is having a difficult time with a chronic mental health condition, they are likely feeling overwhelmed by challenging emotions. Mental health problems can be frustrating and upsetting, and a new diagnosis may be particularly difficult to navigate. You may only see the outward symptoms of your partner’s condition and may not be able to truly comprehend their internal suffering. Your partner may be worried about the stigma surrounding their condition, or may feel frightened that you’ll leave them because they’re no longer the “happy” or “healthy” person they once were.Instead of getting frustrated with your partner, simply be there for them. Even if you’ve only been dating for a short time, it can be valuable to remind yourself that a loyal friend or partner will be there in both “sickness and in health.” Be supportive. Be patient and understanding but also encouraging. Be sympathetic, but be careful not to become an enabler. Unless your partner is truly incapacitated by their condition, they should be responsible for working on their own health. You can help your partner establish healthy habits, including taking their medications and going to therapy, but your partner must ultimately be responsible for following their own treatment plan. Mental illness is also no excuse for emotional abuse or harassment. If, however, your partner is doing their best, do your part by encouraging them and supporting them in their endeavors. Doing so will likely help them recover more quickly.
Do Not Become Their Therapist
Though you should become informed regarding your partner’s health condition and should be as supportive and encouraging as possible, it is important to establish healthy boundaries, too. It is not your job to “save” your partner! Instead, seek outside help for your partner and, if necessary, for your relationship. Let your partner’s therapist and medical team do their job. You should not feel as though the weight of your partner’s condition is on your shoulders. If you feel that your own mental health is suffering as a result, talk to your partner about finding more outside support, such as group therapy or additional individual therapy sessions. Perhaps a new medication is needed, or perhaps a higher dose. Regardless, you shouldn’t feel as though your partner’s struggles are yours to manage. Outside help is available for a reason. Let the professionals take care of your partner’s health.
Seek Out Individual and Couples Therapy
Mental illness affects more than just the individual with the diagnosis. Therapy is a very valuable tool in helping those impacted by mental illness learn how to communicate and process their feelings. Dealing with your partner’s mental health condition may leave you feeling frustrated, bitter, depressed, or angry. Instead of taking these feelings out on your partner, who is likely struggling enough, seek out therapy for yourself. Individual therapy can help you process your emotions on your own; couples therapy can help you work on your communication dynamic, and can help you learn how to support your partner without falling into patterns of blame and resentment. Don’t go to therapy when you’re already experiencing serious issues. Instead, go in advance and learn the skills you need to succeed. You won’t regret it.
Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is a necessity for all of us. If you’re supporting a mentally ill partner, taking care of yourself is doubly important. If you neglect your own mental and physical well-being, you’ll be much more likely to be dragged down by negativity yourself. Doing so could put your entire relationship at risk.Take care of yourself in simple ways. Get enough rest and exercise. Meet up with friends and family members and eat healthy meals. Spend time supporting your partner and tending to your relationship, but avoid developing “caregiver fatigue” by getting overly-involved in your partner’s life. Take care of your own health so you can be supportive of your partner. By doing so, your relationship is much more likely to thrive.
When it comes to relationships, none of us is perfect. It is important to remember that your partner is not defined by his or her mental health problems. Instead of viewing a certain behavior as lazy or avoidant, for example, try to sympathize with the fact that your loved one may be paralyzed by anxiety or crippled by a particularly bad bout of depression. Remember that your loved one is probably just as frustrated with their struggles as you are. Instead of being judgmental, simply listen and offer to help in the ways that you can. By being supportive and kind, you can help your partner heal, paving the path for a happier and healthier future together.
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