[Yesterday we discussed the first steps in how to handle a diagnosis of a mental illness in your partner. Read that post here.]
As you gather information, talking with your partner about what you find is extremely important. After all, it’s his or her life. Just because you find a treatment that sounds promising does not mean your partner will agree. Your role as the partner is to be supportive.
This is a tricky balance because you probably want to help, and you want to help quickly because you don’t want to see your partner continue to struggle. On the other hand, this will be one of your first lessons in learning about how mental illness works. You will quickly discover that treatment and recovery only go well when all the other aspects of the patient’s life—including partner support—are going well, too.
When it comes to illness—of any kind—we tend to be a society that sticks its head in the sand until the problem presents itself in a way that can’t be ignored. With a mental illness, there may be many signs along the way that something isn’t quite right: your partner’s mood changes, they aren’t interested in activities they once loved, responsibilities aren’t being taken care of, there are more arguments, they gain or lose a significant amount of weight, etc.
Even with obvious signs, the diagnosis of a mental illness can come as a shock. And as the partner, what can you do?
First, do not panic. It’s understandable that you will feel a range of emotions—from shock to sadness to anger to fear, and more—but the bottom line is that the diagnosis is probably not an emergency.** There is time to learn about the diagnosis, talk with doctors and therapists, and formulate a treatment plan. While you and your partner will probably be eager to alleviate the symptoms, taking time to research and investigate the options will most likely result in a better outcome.
What does it mean to be a “supportive partner” to someone who has a mental illness? There are many ways you can help your partner, both during times of acute illness and when life is in in “maintenance mode.”
Here are ten ways you can be a supportive partner:
1. Listen carefully and listen well.
Listening well is a skill and takes practice. However, the benefits of being a good listener will serve your relationship well, no matter what is going on at the time. Review these strategies for being a good listener.
2. Ask questions and show interest.
If you are wondering about something, ask! Your partner probably has a lot going on inside, and may be afraid to share their feelings about their illness and its impact on your relationship. Asking questions–and actually listening to the answer–shows you care. Pretending the illness isn’t happening will lead to problems.
3. Educate yourself about your partner’s illness.
This tip will serve you both in many ways: you’ll know more about what you’re dealing with, you’ll be able to recognize warning signs earlier, and you’ll have information about treatment options. The internet has a plethora of information about mental illness, but not all of it is good. I recommend you start here. You may want to consider purchasing a book on the illness to have as a reference as well.
4. Be involved with your partner’s treatment.
If your partner is reluctant about treatment, having a caring person drive them there or meet them afterwards can make a big difference. It can also be helpful to the clinician to have collateral information about what’s going on with your partner. Know the names and phone numbers of your partner’s treatment team, and have a list of the medications your partner takes handy in case of an emergency, including drug names, dosages, and how often they take them. Update the list often.
5. Get your own counseling.
I know, you’re thinking that it’s your partner who has the illness, not you. But this illness is going to affect you as …
Partners in Wellness by Kate Thieda is a blog about helping to provide information and support to relationship partners and spouses who are in a marriage with someone who has a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Coping with someone who has a serious mental illness can often times be trying, difficult, and stressful. This blog will deal with topics to help caregivers and partners learn to better communicate and improve their relationships with someone who has a mental health concern.
This blog will focus on helping people who are in a relationship with a person who has a mental health issue. While this may include what people often refer to as “caregivers,” it is focused on people who are partners of a person with a mental disorder.
Topics on this blog may include:
I’m pleased we have a blog on this important topic on Psych Central, as it is often a subject that gets swept under the rug and few people pay much attention to. So many relationships needlessly suffer because people simply run out of patience and coping skills to deal with the unique issues living with or being in a serious relationship with someone who has mental health concerns.
Please give Kate a warm Psych Central welcome!