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When You Learn Your Partner Has a Mental Illness: Part 1

partner with mental illnessWhen 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.

**The exception would be if your partner is experiencing psychosis or is actively suicidal. Then you need immediate medical assistance by calling 911 and having your partner admitted to the hospital.

Once your partner has a diagnosis, it’s time for both of you to read and learn. The internet can be a great resource, but be cautious about what sites you trust for information. Obviously, you’re reading this on PsychCentral, so I recommend you start right here on this site. Other recommended sites can be found here.

Some information to search for:

  • What are the symptoms of the diagnosis?
  • Is this a chronic condition or one that will remit with treatment? How likely is a relapse?
  • What kinds of treatments are available? This can include medication, talk therapy, treatment programs, and steps your partner can do independently.
  • What treatments are available in the area where we live?
  • How long is the typical treatment?
  • What insurance benefits does my partner have for mental health treatment? If none, what options are available for low-fee services or out-of-pocket expenses?
  • How can I as the partner make it easier on my ill partner? What responsibilities can I take on, what does s/he need from me right now?

That’s a lot of information, and it may feel overwhelming. Again, I recommend that you take your time in gathering the information and to also start practicing self-care during this time. Allowing yourself to be totally consumed in the information-gathering process may tire you out and result in frustration.

Look for Part 2 tomorrow.

Photo by Vancouver Film School, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

When You Learn Your Partner Has a Mental Illness: Part 1

Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda, MS, LPCA, NCC, is a patient advocate for Women's and Children's Services at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is a licensed professional counselor associate and a National Certified Counselor who specializes in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavior therapies. Her book, Loving Someone With Anxiety, will be published by New Harbinger in the spring of 2013.

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APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2011). When You Learn Your Partner Has a Mental Illness: Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2019, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2011
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