12 Tips on How to Help a Partner with a Mental Illness

by Mel Bonthuys
Mental Movement Magazine

When I was in the depths of anxiety and depression, something that was always at the back of my mind was how was my partner going to react to all this? Would he one day decide that he had had enough, pack his bags and leave me, or would he stick by me and realise how much I needed him.

It’s a fear of many people who suffer from some form of mental illness, and potentially this type of worrying can make everything ten times worse, and for me, it made the anxiety more hard to cope with.

I needn’t have worried though, because this guy who I was worried would leave me, actually ended up marrying me and he has helped me every step of the way.

However, this was not without it’s challenges, and on my husband’s part, it turned out to be a constant learning experience, not only to become more familiar with anxiety disorders but to try and deal with me when I was at my worst.

My husband endured a lot during my bad days. In fact, I often think he suffered more than I did. With my endless crying fits, suicidal tendencies, terrible mood swings and verbal abuse – I was truly a joy to be around.

In my book ‘My Anxiety Companion‘ my husband has actually written a whole chapter on how to be there for your anxious spouse, but we have come up with these extra handy tips that we both feel will help anyone who is the partner of a person with a mental illness, particularly with anxiety disorders:

Educate yourself – Getting to grips with what mental disorders are is the key point here. You must gain as much knowledge as you can, but more importantly, you must understand that mental disorders do not equate insanity. Mental Disorders are the umbrella term for conditions such as Anxiety Disorders, Depression and Bipolar, so whichever your partner suffers from, you need to build up as much information as you can. There are many resources available in the form of books, the internet, magazines and websites.

Research different treatments – There are many different treatments available to treat various Mental Disorders. There are natural ways, conventional ways and complementary ways to treat Mental conditions, and you have to understand that everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Reading other people’s testimonials on the various treatments out there works wonders, and in this way, you will also get introduced to some alternative and perhaps unorthodox ways that some people have treated their mental disorders with great results. Also, bear in mind that chances are, your partner will be too distressed to try and investigate all the different options available to them, so please make it your mission to assist them with this.

Keep calm –  It is vital that you keep calm when your partner is in a state of distress. It is not easy to see someone you care for so upset and unhappy, but you have got to be the strong one and be a rock for them, which leads me to my next point.

Allow yourself some chill time – When you have to be the strong one and contain your own emotions in order to help someone else, it completely drains you. Don’t forget that you are human as well and you need to have some time to yourself as well. Whether this is to just cry and be upset over what your partner is going through, then so be it, but please allow yourself some alone time.

Have patience – Mood swings are very common amongst people with mental disorders. This is because the person is angry and upset with their situation. They have moments of hope and then moments of hopelessness which is going to contribute a lot to mood swings. If they snap at you, take it with a pinch of salt – they aren’t angry with you.

Ask your partner what they want and need – I am the kind of person whereby I like to be hugged and nurtured when I am upset or anxious, and my husband is well aware of this. So, encourage the person to tell you what they need when they don’t feel their best. Some people like to be held and told encouraging things, some people prefer to laugh and some people want to be left alone.

Try to get them to do things they like – As their partner, you should be aware as to what they enjoy or what their hobbies are. Gently encourage them to do these things by doing it with them. For example, if it’s a class they go to, offer to drive them and go and sit with them in the class.

Listen without judgement – People with mental disorders, particularly with anxiety disorders are filled with fear and irrationality and can come up with the most bizarre worries and concerns. Always listen, never judge them or tell them they are overreacting. Remember the fears that are felt are very real to the sufferer.

Accept that you will have to be a ‘carer’ at times – It is absolutely draining having to fight your mind every day, and it is not uncommon at all for people with mental disorders to feel physically tired a lot of the time. Please understand that sometimes your partner may not have the energy to do normal everyday things, and may spend their day lying in bed. This is not laziness – in fact, you need to take these days as a sign that they really need you to love them and be there for them the most.

Encourage them to take their medication – Having to take medication for a mental disorder is a very bitter pill to swallow (excuse the pun) for a lot of people with mental health issues. It was definitely the case for me, so please know when and how your partner needs to take their medication (if they have been prescribed some) and make sure they take it when they have to.

Never brush off the good old-fashioned hug – This speaks for itself, and even the people who are not into hugging cannot say that they don’t feel the benefits. Sometimes a good strong hug makes everything feel better.

Keep things light-hearted in your house – Presuming you are living together, go the extra mile to make sure that there is nothing that could provoke or trigger their mental disorder. Keep mainstream media off and out of sight, don’t talk about your bad days at work, keep the house tidy, don’t keep refined sugar in the house, play nice music, light some soothing incense – anything that will help to contribute to a calm ambience.

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