One of the things I always ask my clients is how much they know about their diagnoses, and commonly, I hear, “Not much,” beyond the fact that they are living it, of course. I find that having just a little information can go a long way in helping people understand their illness and jumpstart their recovery.
For partners of those with a mental illness, it’s just as important that you understand what your partner is dealing with as well. While you can’t have the actual experience of the illness, knowledge about it can help you figure out what needs to be done and how to best do it.
The following is a list of books, websites, and organizations that are recommended as educational material for the various mental illnesses.** Some will be partner-specific, but many are resources that include information for anyone who just wants to know more. Also know that I am not recommending these resources as a substitute for professional treatment, in the forms of therapy and/or medication.
**I am not affiliated in any way with any of the resources recommended, unless otherwise noted.
They say there’s no greater love than the love you have for your children. So when you see your partner struggling with the effects of a mental illness, panic can set in, making rational people think emotionally, which often leads to rash decisions.
This is especially true if you are in a panic about whether your partner is capable of caring for the children. (Or if you are looking for a reason to take the children away, because you never intended to stay in the relationship in the first place.)
Having a mental illness does not automatically mean your partner is incapable of being a parent. Nor does this fact grant you, as the healthy partner, any legal rights beyond what you already have as the parent.
Let me repeat that: having a partner with a mental illness does not mean you automatically get full custody if you decide to fight for it.
Let’s have a rational discussion about what is and is not appropriate to do, as the healthy partner, when you discover that your partner has a mental illness and there are children involved. I’ll outline what is reasonable behavior (the green zone), the need-to-consult area (yellow zone), and the “yes, the kids need to be taken away” area (the red zone).
For those who are new to reading this blog, I introduced it back in March by saying that the inspiration for it was the many clients I have seen whose relationships were shattered by the impact of their illness. My hope was that if a partner who was reaching their wit’s end with dealing with their partner’s illness could read a post that resonated, perhaps a relationship or two could be saved.
One of the reasons I use “partners” instead of “spouse” in my posts–as well as in the blog’s title of “Partners in Wellness”–is because there are all types of relationships out there, and I didn’t want readers to feel as if I was only addressing those who are married. But since today’s post title clearly reflects the traditional wedding vow of “In sickness and in health,” I wanted to remind readers that my intent is to reach anyone who has a significant relationship to someone with mental illness, whether you are “traditionally” married to them or not.
I also believe that the idea of sticking by someone you love and care about while they struggle with any illness–mental of physical–does not just have to apply to married couples.
Two of my clients who have bipolar disorder have brought this vow into our sessions recently. Both of these women have been divorced by their husbands, due to the fallout from their illnesses, and children were involved. Both of these women struggle with the fact that their partners did not maintain their vow, and feel that because it was a mental illness, as opposed to a physical illness, they had no chance of having the relationship survive.
My previous post on what people with depression would like their partners to know was quite popular, so I thought perhaps I’d give a voice to patients who struggle with other mental health concerns. This time, we’re going to hear from the folks with adult ADHD.
Adults with ADHD are often misunderstood by others around them–after all, there’s still the widespread perception that ADHD is a kids thing, and really, shouldn’t an adult have better control over their behaviors?
Or, how could an adult have made it this far in life and not have a diagnosis already? It’s got to just be their personality, right?
In my previous post, I talked about how your partner is not their illness–rather, their illness is just one part of who they are now. Often, when people hear about mental illness, they mistakenly assume that the illness is forever, and that’s often not the case.
But the definition of “recovery” from a mental illness can be elusive, not to mention different for each person. According to the National Consensus Statement on Mental Health Recovery, recovery is “a journey of healing and transformation enabling a person with a mental health problem to live a meaningful life in a community of his or her choice while striving to achieve his or her full potential” (SAMHSA, 2006).
Is your partner moving forward on that journey to recovery? What can you, as the caring partner, do to help?
Describing your partner as the illness, instead of as having an illness, can make a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) impact on both your and your partner’s perceptions of them, their capabilities, and their hope for recovery. It implies that the illness is woven into the fabric of your partner’s being, and that things will never improve.
Saying your partner has bipolar, has OCD, has anorexia, or has borderline personality disorder, etc., puts the situation in perspective: they have an illness, and in many cases, the illness can be cured or at least put into remission.
A few years ago, a man in Maryland began an art project that invited people to send their secrets anonymously via postcard to his mailing address. Four books, a lively discussion board, and a popular blog later, thousands of people have shared their innermost secrets with a perfect stranger, many of them finding relief in finally putting their feelings into words, even if they don’t get a personal response or ever see their secret published.
Partners of people experiencing mental illness can find similar catharsis in sharing their secrets regarding their feelings about their situation. The reason we keep secrets in the first place is usually because we are afraid of the consequences of others finding out. When you have a partner with mental illness, the stakes can seem even higher if your true thoughts and feelings about your relationship are to be “found out” by your partner. The need to hide can grow and grow.
Most people associate summertime with good things: vacations, longer days, warmer temperatures, outdoor activities, and seeing friends and family you may not be able to connect with during the cold, dark winter months.
What may startle some people who have never experienced depression is that summertime episodes of depression are quite common. WebMD recently published an article about common causes of summer depression, including summertime seasonal affective disorder (SAD), disrupted schedules, body image issues, financial worries, and coping with the heat.
Is your partner struggling with any of these issues? Here are some tips for making things a little easier on your partner as the heat soars and depression creeps back in:
A few weeks ago, I posted a blog on preparing for partner relapse. In that blog, I briefly discussed psychiatric advance directives (PADs), and felt that this topic was important enough to have a blog post of its own.
According to the National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advance Directives, “Psychiatric advance directives are relatively new legal instruments that may be used to document a competent person’s specific instructions or preferences regarding future mental health treatment, in preparation for the possibility that the person may lose capacity to give or withhold informed consent to treatment during acute episodes of psychiatric illness.”
Being relatively new, psychiatric advance directives are not widely discussed–or even known about–in the mental health world. However, they can literally be lifesavers if you have a partner with a mental illness that may land them in the hospital. As the supportive partner, you need to play a large role in helping to create the PAD, because if your partner is ill enough to need it, it will be up to you to make sure the PAD is followed during your partner’s treatment.
Today I’ve received two frantic phone calls from partners of people who are struggling with mental illness. Both of these ill partners had acute episodes of mania over the weekend, in response to stressful events that had recently transpired. And in both cases, the ill partners were reluctant to seek help, so the partners were trying to schedule appointments on their partners’ behalf, hoping they could “talk them into coming” because an appointment had been made.
This usually doesn’t go very well, from anyone’s point of view. Here’s why:
It’s not a good place to try to begin building a therapeutic relationship. Forcing a partner into treatment may benefit them in the long run, but it can also explode in everyone’s face, making the illness even worse and ruining your relationship for good.
So what do you do when it’s obvious that your partner needs help–the sooner, the better–but they won’t agree to go?