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.
Here are some tips for approaching the topic of your partner’s illness:
- Discuss with your partner who should be told and why. Unfortunately, some people still “don’t get it” when it comes to mental illness, thinking that these illnesses are “all in your head” and something that doesn’t really exist. Be selective about who you tell, and think about what kind of support you would like from those people. Also decide as a couple how much information will be given. This post on whether or not to tell someone has additional information to consider regarding telling others.
- If possible, talk to your friends and family in person. Being able to see the body language you have and hear your tone of voice adds an extra dimension to your message. If in-person is not possible, the phone would be my next choice, and email or other electronic communication as my distant last choice.
- Have factual information ready for your support people. They will likely have a lot of questions for you. Hopefully, you have done your own homework on your partner’s illness, and can give factual information about what is happening. Remember what you and your partner agreed on regarding how much information to give out. Some people will be better able to handle an in-depth answer than others.
- Know what you need from your support people. Be ready to answer questions about how your family and friends can help. Is it that you just wanted them to know so you aren’t holding a secret, or do you need practical help, such as assistance caring for the kids, prepared meals, someone to drive your partner to doctor’s appointments, etc.? Or maybe having someone check in with you on a regular basis would be helpful.
- Be prepared for the unexpected. It is in times of adversity that we learn who our real friends are. You and your partner may have thought someone was trustworthy, and learn otherwise once that person has this information about your partner. However, do not allow this person to stop you from turning to others for support. Recovering from a mental illness requires a lot of help from others. You and your partner deserve all the help you can get.