When you have a partner with mental illness, you are likely always on alert for behaviors that might indicate the illness is progressing. Was that laugh too loud, and a sign of impending mania?…Does the fact that he doesn’t want to go to the party mean his depression is coming back?…Did he forget to pick up the dry cleaning because he didn’t take his ADHD meds?…Did she skip dessert because she’s full or because her eating disorder is telling her she should?…Is he jumpy because of his PTSD or did he just have too much coffee this morning?
As the supportive partner, it can be exhausting to have these thoughts all the time. You have likely been through the mill with your partner’s behaviors that are due to their illness, and having these kinds of thoughts are a defense mechanism to protect yourself from being caught off guard again.
But there’s a flip side to this story, too: your partner may not be feeling as if it is okay to be themselves.
People with ADHD–children or adults–hear this phrase from frustrated teachers, supervisors, and yes, even partners, far too often. From the outside, the symptoms of ADHD can make it look as if your partner isn’t trying hard enough, resulting in things being forgotten or left unfinished.
The reality couldn’t be further from the truth: the person with ADHD is likely trying harder than anyone else, but their brain is not cooperating effectively.
ADHD brains are constantly processing information, but parts of the ADHD brain don’t work as well in assimilating information as efficiently as a non-ADHD brain. So it’s not that your partner isn’t trying–they are, but sometimes it won’t be as quickly or accurately as we would like, or the end result may come out differently than we had expected (see this post about what people with ADHD would like you to know about how their brains work).
Today’s post is Part 2 on how to help kids who have a parent with a mental illness. In Part 1, we discussed how kids think about and react to having an ill parent. This post will address how to talk with kids when their Mom or Dad has a mental illness, and provide helpful resources.
Talking with kids about mental illness
Experts recommend that you address these main topics with kids when Mom or Dad have a mental illness:
When a parent is mentally ill, children are often confused, scared, angry, and/or worried. Depending on their ages, how long the parent has been symptomatic, and experiences with Mom or Dad being sick, children need appropriate levels of education and support.
In this two-part blog, we’ll first look at how kids perceive, react to, and think about having a parent with a mental illness. In Part 2, we’ll discuss how to best help kids and offer resources.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can run in families, so it makes sense that if your partner has it, your child might as well. Often, the adult goes undiagnosed until the child develops problems in school, and the assessment process begins for the child. At that point, the adult often realizes that they, too, have similar symptoms that may not have been previously recognized. ADHD is a relatively new diagnosis, so many adults of child-bearing age went through school before ADHD was something with a name.
While it is great that your partner and child have a diagnosis and there is treatment, having two people in the house with ADHD–one of whom is supposed to shoulder a lot of the “adult responsibilities”–can be a recipe for chaos and frustration.
How do you handle having an adult partner and a child with ADHD?
Bringing up the topic of a partner’s mental illness with family and friends can feel tricky. In some cases, it might be obvious that there is something wrong, but many mental illnesses can’t be detected from the outside. However, that doesn’t mean you and your partner don’t need and deserve support from understanding family and friends.
Asking for that support can feel uncomfortable, though, given the stigma that still exists around mental illness, and cultural perceptions that we should keep personal problems to ourselves.
Every so often, I like to share with my readers resources that I have found elsewhere on the Internet. Today I’d like to introduce you to “Patient Voices,” a New York Times online resource that highlights multiple patient stories for myriad illnesses, including ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, and schizophrenia. If your partner has one of these illnesses, or perhaps another type of physical illness, these interactive clips may give you new insight into your partner’s experience.
Let me know which ones you watched and what you thought. Also, what are some of your favorite resources for learning about mental illness? Post them in the comments below!
Jim’s drinking was clearly out of control…he had been up for over 24 hours, and the beer bottles lying around numbered over thirty. Yet he refuses to see a counselor, saying that he “doesn’t have a problem and doesn’t need help!”
Jane’s mother, Sally, age 76, can barely make her way through her own house because of the clutter and items she has accumulated. Jane is concerned for her mother’s safety, but Sally will not allow Jane to clean the house or throw anything away. The more Jane insists, the stronger Sally’s resistance. It’s gotten to the point where Sally has told Jane she is not welcome to visit anymore, and Jane cannot figure out how to help.
Josh has not been feeling like himself for a long time now: he lost his job six months ago and his girlfriend of two years broke up with him a few weeks ago. He’s finding himself sleeping through the day and staying up all night, gaming online and looking at porn. He knows he should be job hunting, but really, he doesn’t care anymore. He’s lost 20 pounds, and when he does see his friends, they are shocked at the changes. But when they ask questions, Josh blows them off and says, “I’m fine.”
All three of these people are great candidates for therapy, but none of them will go. Why?
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?”
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:
Did you know that nearly half of adults in the U.S. with symptoms of diagnosable ADHD don’t know they have it?
Are you thinking, “How could my partner not have a diagnosis??? He (or she) can never sit still for a minute, remember to pay the bills, or manage the money, let alone pay attention to me!”
Well, ADHD has only been diagnosed in adults since the 1980s. Since it is usually caught in childhood, if your partner wasn’t assessed back then, they may have slipped through the cracks. Until now.