By Tara Bosler – freelance writer on home, kids, family, & love
Although as a society we are becoming more aware of mental health issues, there is still a significant stigma attached to individuals that suffer from mental illness. There is a lot that the general population does not know or understand about mental illness and there are so many distinctions, it is impossible to be familiar with them all. Suffering with a mental illness is one of the hardest trials to go through not only because the social stigma, but also due to lack of resources, insurance coverage, and finding medical professionals that can help and understand.
The second hardest part has to be loving someone who is suffering with a mental illness. There is a lot of advice out there about loving your partner through mental illness and tough times or through especially difficult seasons of life, but how do you love someone through a tough part of who they are? How do you love someone through a difficult part of themselves that will always be there? That can be overwhelming, but it’s not impossible.
Some people live with mental illness for years without getting help. If your partner is ready to work through it through medication, natural remedies, therapy, and/or any other methods, there are ways you can support your partner in doing so. This may be a big shift in your lives together, but ultimately will be a better and healthier life for you both. There are some concrete things you can do to put you and your partner in a positive mindset to weather the storms that come with mental illness. You cannot single handedly fix the problem, but you can be a steady support for your partner.
Do Research (together and on your own)
Whether your partner is affected by anxiety, depression, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), bipolar disorder, or another type of mental illness, read up on it. No need to necessarily understand it from a medical standpoint. There are plenty of places on the internet to learn about how certain mental illnesses occur and how they manifest in individuals. Some mental illnesses are something you are born with, some are genetic but do not show up until later in life, and still others can become a part of someone’s life following a tragic or traumatic event. Very often individuals suffer from more than one mental illness at a time. Do the work to understand the illness so it is not completely up to your partner to educate you. Sharing articles with one another and reading research on the illness(es) together can help you grow together in your understanding of the illness.
Understand How it Specifically Affects Your Partner
Research alone cannot necessarily help you understand your partner’s individual experience with their mental illness. For example, everyone experiences a certain level of anxiety, but suffering from an anxiety disorder is much different. And for each person with an anxiety disorder, it is a different experience. So people with anxiety or panic around a certain issue (driving, performance, socializing, etc) are going to experience anxiety differently than those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder insomuch that they can experience extreme worry about almost anything. Likewise, with victims of PTSD, depending on the level of visual memory your partner has about the trauma, it can manifest in a variety of ways. Encourage your partner to understand how they experience their mental illness, and also encourage them to discuss it and explain it to you the best they can.
Do Your Best to Know the Triggers
“Triggers” are the external factors that result in discomfort or emotional pain, which then causes expressions or symptoms of anxiety, depression, etc. Some people know their triggers, others do not, and often people know some of their triggers, and then learn more when they are put into different situations. Talk with your partner about what they understand about their own triggers. Does an argument with a friend or coworker result in isolation and depression? Does driving in certain weather conditions usually cause increased anxiety? Very often memories that are similar to traumatic events will cause symptoms of PTSD to instantly appear. Decide together what the plan is when triggers occur. Sometimes avoiding these triggers is the answer and later into a treatment plan, making a plan for how to deal with the trigger becomes a sustainable solution.
Talk to Medical Professionals Together
If medical professionals are part of your and your partner’s plan, meet with them together at least once. This is a great visual way to show your support for your partner. Often there is not much you can do for your partner except be patient with them and be by their side. Talking with doctors, making sure all of your partner’s (and your) questions are answered, and ensuring that your partner is comfortable with the doctor are all ways you can support your partner in a concrete manner. It will also help the doctor to meet you and understand their patient’s support system.
Know That There Will be Ups, Downs, and Plateaus
As with anything in life and love, there are ebbs and flows. You will see significant improvements, and significant setbacks. You will both see long lengths of time when nothing seems to be happening. Knowing that the path to living healthily with a mental illness is not always and only upward progress is important. It is all a process, and often it can be a long process. Let your partner know that you are proud of the work they are doing, and make sure you are both doing your best to make your relationship a priority as you travel this journey together.
Mental health is a medical issue, but it does not have to be the death sentence for your relationship. There are ways that you can support your partner through mental illness, to work through these challenges and stay strong as a loving couple. Facing and dealing with a mental illness is a significant life change for any individual. These steps will help you and your partner learn how to love each other completely.