Today is World Mental Health Day, and as you may have noticed, there are a lot of people discussing the broken mental health system in our country. It’s a sad state of affairs from a large systems level, but it’s also not great on the personal level, either.
As the partner of someone with mental illness, you probably found your way to this blog because you were looking for resources about how to handle your partner’s illness. Didn’t find a whole lot out there, did you? Not only are we as a mental health system not doing a good job of managing the needs of the clients, we’re doing an even worse job of helping their families. So, educating yourself and advocating for your partner is extra important.
What is out there for us, the partners and families of loved ones with mental illness?
The biggest national organization out there that targets partners and families is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI offers a lot of resources, including support groups and classes that partners and families of those with mental illness can attend in order to learn more about their loved ones’ illness and receive support. Most areas in the U.S. have a local chapter, so I encourage you to at least check it out and see what’s available. Maybe you don’t need it, but someone else you know might.
Another national organization is Mental Health America. They also offer a wealth of information on their site, free screenings, and have local affiliates. Some locations also offer pro-bono counseling services.
There are a number of books that are aimed at the partners of people with mental illnesses. Here are some of the titles:
- Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston
- When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness by Rebecca Woolis
- Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger
- I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus
- The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tools and Techniques to Stop Walking on Eggshells by Randi Kreger
- Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Patients and Providers by E. Fuller Torrey
- The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia: Helping Your Loved One Get the Most Out of Life by Kim T. Mueser and Susan Gingerich
- I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help by Xanier Amador
For other resources, check out my blog post here.
Finally, being involved in your partner’s treatment is essential. There is a fine line between being supportive and being unwelcome, such as if you try to override your partner’s wishes for treatment, but in general, we as clinicians like it when the partners are actively involved. What that means is:
- You are welcome to attend appointments, but that you also understand if we ask you to wait in the lobby until the end of the session so that we can talk to your partner alone first.
- If we suggest something specific that we think would be helpful, it’s great when we hear that the client’s partner was supportive, such as exercising together or spending more time together as a couple.
- We usually welcome feedback if you have concerns about your partner, but also ask that you understand that we may not be able to tell you certain things that have been told to us in confidence.
- Finally, it’s great when couples attend couples counseling together to work out issues, and the well partner does individual counseling to get support as well.