Archives for January, 2012
The American Psychological Association released its annual Stress in America report earlier this month, and the findings were clear: those caring for people who are aging and/or chronically ill (including those having a mental illness) are under more stress than the average American. According to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving, 65.7 million Americans served as caregivers for an ill or disabled relative in the past year. Not only that, caregivers reported that they are less successful in making changes that could improve their quality of life, such as eating well, exercising, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I often reinforce the importance of these strategies, but the results show this is still difficult to put into practice.
If you have a partner with borderline personality disorder (BPD), it's likely that you have experienced times when your partner has said things that were extremely hurtful, maybe even cruel. A person does not have to have BPD (or any other mental disorder, for that matter) to know just how to push their partner's buttons, but for the partners of those with BPD, the emotional outbursts tend to be more frequent and, ultimately, more harmful, both to you as the non-BPD partner and for your relationship as a whole. "Emotional abuse" is any kind of behavior that is meant to control another person through the use of fear, humiliation, or physical assault. It can range from verbal attacks to more subtle forms of manipulation, intimidation, and the inability to be pleased, no matter what you do for them. People who are emotionally abused have a slow erosion of self-esteem, self-confidence, and sense of self-worth. They begin to question their own thoughts and ability to judge a situation accurately, because their abuser is constantly telling them they are wrong. Eventually, the person being abused feels so worthless that they decide no one but the abuser would want to be in a relationship with them, so they stay. Their worst fear is being alone. If this describes your relationship, you are not alone.
You may have told your partner during your time together that he or she is "one in a million," but if they also have a mental illness, they are more like 1 in 5 Americans, according to a recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). According to the report: A new national report reveals that 45.9 million American adults aged 18 or older, or 20 percent of this age group, experienced mental illness in the past year. The rate of mental illness was more than twice as high among those aged 18 to 25 (29.9 percent) than among those aged 50 and older (14.3 percent). Adult women were also more likely than men to have experienced mental illness in the past year (23 percent versus 16.8 percent). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health also shows that 11.4 million adults (5 percent of the adult population) suffered from serious mental illness in the past year. Serious mental illness is defined as one that resulted in serious functional impairment, which substantially interfered with or limited one or more major life activities. As the well partner, what does this mean for you?
If your definition of "co-dependent" involves someone who is married to an alcoholic, you get partial credit. While the term was originally coined to describe those who enabled alcoholics, these days, we view codependency in a wider context. It now includes anyone who allows the negative behaviors of other people to affect them, and who spends a lot of time and energy trying to manage the other person's behaviors. That broader definition can include a whole host of behaviors, including drug abuse, overeating, compulsive spending, "workaholism," or any other behavior that has an addictive potential to it. Your partner does not have to be codependent to you, either. Your partner may be codependent to their parents, siblings, children, friends, or other people they feel close to. When that happens, this will still have an impact on your relationship because much of your partner's time, energy, and focus will go towards helping that other person. What can you do to prevent your partner's codependency to someone else from affecting your relationship?
Do you giggle at the thought of someone having the job title of "sex therapist"? Or do you think those people must have the best job in the world??? (Nudge, wink.) Get over it...Sex therapists are like any other psychotherapist, except that they specialize in helping individuals and couples who are having sexual problems. These therapists generally have counseling, social work, or psychology degrees as their training basis, but choose to do additional training beyond what's minimally required in sexuality study as part of their degrees. There's even a credentialing body for sex therapists: the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). However, despite the alluring job title, no sex between clients happens in their offices, and the therapist does not participate in sexual encounters with clients, either. (Sorry to disappoint you!) Once you recover from the giggles, you might want to consider whether you and your partner could benefit from the services of a sex therapist.
Recent news headlines may be stating the obvious for you and your partner: ADHD medications are in short supply here in the U.S. Has your partner gone to have their meds refilled, only to be told, "We don't have any, and we don't know when we'll get more?" Yikes! There's no doubt that ADHD medications make a difference for those who take them. They help with focus, concentration, and ability to get through the day. If your partner can't get their medications, however, Plan B for managing life needs to be implemented. And actually, these tips are useful even if your partner is on medication, as organization and coordination can still be an issue, even when your partner is properly medicated. Here are some strategies for your partner to minimize ADHD symptoms:
Anna and David were at a New Year's Eve party at the home of David's coworker. David, a naturally-outgoing salesperson, interacted easily with the other invitees, even though he knew no one there but the hosts. Anna, who suffers from social anxiety, struggled to feel comfortable during the evening, often sitting in silence for long periods of time and not doing much to contribute to the conversation. At the end of the night, as they were driving home, David said to Anna, "What was your problem tonight? Would it have killed you to be nice to these people?" Anna sat in silence, seething in anger at her partner, whom she wished had made things easier for her by including her in the conversations. She was also silently criticizing herself about her performance at the party, telling herself she will never go to a party where she doesn't know anyone ever again. From David's perspective, Anna was a wet blanket at the party, and deliberately chose to be unfriendly. From Anna's perspective, David should have known she would be anxious and uncomfortable in a situation like this, and done something to help ease her fears. Both of them have come to incorrect conclusions about why the other behaved as they did at the party, and as a result, there is conflict.
Last Friday's post discussed how stigma is--unfortunately--still a major force in mental health. Today, I want to share with you something you can do about it. Many positive things in the world have happened because someone has had a loved one go through a negative experience, and decided to instigate change. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has just the thing: Become a StigmaBuster!
Emotional intimacy with your partner takes effort. When we are busy with our day-to-day lives, remembering to connect and do just a little extra to remind your partner of your love for them can fall by the wayside. When your partner has a mental illness, their self-esteem can take a huge hit. Knowing that they have a partner who still loves and supports them, no matter what illness they may have, makes a difference. In this new year, recommit to trying some of the following ten suggestions to show your support of your partner:
A topic that often comes up with my clients is what rights they have when their quality of life is affected by their mental illness. Most common is a discussion of FMLA, or the Family Medical Leave Act, which can give people special accommodation at work. But beyond FMLA, mental health patients have rights to other services that can help them more easily weather the challenges having an illness can bring. As the partner of someone with mental illness, it's imperative you know about what's available both to your partner as a patient, and to you as a caregiver.