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Our Mental Health Blogs

Loving Someone with a Mental Illness

I often write about what it can feel like to suffer from a mental illness, but I have neglected one major aspect: a mental illness never affects just one person.

For every person with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD, there will almost always be someone in their lives who loves them. And it’s fair to say that their suffering is as real and true as the person with the mental illness.

I can write on this topic from both sides of the fence. I have suffered from major depression while in a serious, long-term relationship and know what I put that person through. I have also seen the other side, where in my dating career, I have been with a chronically suicidal female with borderline personality disorder, someone with severe obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, as well as someone with anorexia nervosa coupled with anxiety and depression.

The Rule of Opposites Do Not Apply Here

They say opposites attract, but in my experience, the opposite has been true. When I was unbalanced, I sought out relationships that were unbalanced. Now that I have gained control of my sanity, I have settled into a comfortable, meaningful and long-lasting relationship with someone who also has control of their sanity.

The reason I say this is that if you happen to suffer from a mental illness, I personally believe that there is a higher chance that you will end up involved with someone who also suffers.

How Can I Love You When You’re So Far Away?

Living with someone with major depression is almost like having a long distance relationship, in the same house. They are there in body but their mind is off in space. They are constantly thinking, and you can tell by the expressions on their face that they are not thinking happy thoughts. When asked to discuss it, they may respond that nothing is wrong and to not concern yourself.

But how can you not concern yourself? You love this person and yet you are having to sit idly by as they suffer in silence.

It can be a difficult situation for both parties. Beyond urging your loved one to seek psychiatric treatment, there isn’t a whole lot you can do besides being supportive and understanding. Do not judge, do not assume and always remember to not take it personally. So many fights in relationships are caused by one partner assuming that the other partners emotional withdrawal says something about them, instead of something about their mental illness.

Why Can’t You Just Snap Out of It?

Telling your loved one that ‘it isn’t as bad as you think,’ or ‘why don’t you just snap out of it,’ can be extremely hurtful and counter-productive. If it was possible to simply snap out of it, then obviously that person would have made that choice long ago. Depending on what your loved one suffers from, educate yourself about the symptoms and treatments. Read memoirs about the illness from people who have experienced it and learn to communicate more effectively and compassionately with them.

The principles of cognitive based therapies apply quite perfectly when figuring out how to love someone with a mental illness. Be compassionate, non-judgmental, non-confrontational, do not assign blame, express empathy and be available.

And one more thing. Tell them that you love them, even if they don’t have the energy to say it back.

The Completely in Blue website is here. Chris is also on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

35 thoughts on “Loving Someone with a Mental Illness”

  1. You guys–i need to talk…. have twin girls and one a mess- ruins everthing she touches but is gorgeous intelligent talented… married a wealthy man and now ruining that with her rages and hateful mean words..
    help

  2. Well, I really don’t think you can assume that everyone’s experience is on the same continuum. While some people do find good support (and I hope they realize how lucky they are), quite a few others are dismissed, marginalized, misunderstood and maybe even abused. If you read carefully, you can see the pain of being treated in such a manner reflected in their posts. Besides, there ARE equal numbers of partners, etc. complaining about their bipolar loved ones that demonstrates their ignorance on the topic, and a lack of a desire to learn. One board was so overrun with partner complaints that a reminder was regularly posted to direct them to the appropriate section because it became very triggering. Therein lies the problem – one side doesn’t understand, the other struggles to be understood, and they both disagree on how to settle this. Your basic conflict model. Not sure what we can do about it, nor are people generally good at compromise and resolution. Chalk it up to being lousy humans.

  3. I realize this is a blog about mental illness but what bother’s me is that I keep I hearing over and over again in these aricles and blogs poor bipolar me, poor bipolar me, poor bipolar me nobody understands ME, ME, ME. I also have bipolar disorder and even I get tired of it so I can understand why so many loved ones who also read these blogs looking for a way to support their loved ones must feel and why they often leave their mentally ill significant other because it just becomes too much to deal with. Let’s be honest, we ALL want to be loved and respected bipolar or otherwise. From what I’m seeing and hearing is that it’s mostly the loved ones who seem to be expected to give, give, give, while the mentally ill seem to get off scott free to take, take, take. How about an article for a change that invites some honest discussion about how it feels to be on the other side of the fence. There needs to be some balance to these articles. We are all affected by bipolar disorder in one way or another. And I for one would like to hear a little bit more from the significant others and how it affects them… Or would that be considered to guilt producing for the mentally ill person to bear. I for one, think not but then again that’s just me

  4. I just discovered your blog and love it! I did not know we could talk so much about stigma. This is a great work what you are doing. I just posted about stigma in a very wide way. I may come back here for references and ideas, I will always mention you. It is a really great work. My most sincere congratulations as this is something we need
    regards!

  5. Hello to every one im bipolar depression anexity psychoffrenic adhd ptsd and what ever else us hidding inside of me some time I just snapp out of control to when im yelling and bitching at my girlfriend that I love and im In love with ive been on and off meds for years im at a point now to people places and thing can make me snapp its hard to get along with others major trust issues with amost every one my two kidds and my father my mom witch just past away I had no trust issues with my girlfriend im starting to trus t more as time goes on some time I catch my self in the middle of snapping out on her and say see what I mean for no reson im yelling at her and u stop and apolgize to her I dont know where its comming from I hate myslf some times when this happens and feel like a fool my ex wife was a part big part of my trust issues married 20 years had two kidds owend are house i hadba great union job as a teamster had everything left to work one day on my birthday she told me happy bithday she loves me and se you to night well I came home that night she was gone walked out on me and both kidds it justbgot worse from there she left me for an excon she got what she wanted he beat her all the time I never hit her im gone cantb talk no more but that part ofba trust issue I never had shes a [moderated] IVE GOT MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM IV DROVE TRUCKS FOR 30 YEARS PLUS BODY IS SHOT HERD TO GET OUTA BED IN THE MORNING MY KNEES BACK AND ELBOWS HAND DONT MOVE TO GOOD IVE APPLTED FOR SSI THEY REFUSED ME ONCE NOW REAPPLYING AGAIN THIS IS NEEDED FOR MY HEALTH AND MENTAL HEALTH THIS GOVERMENT SUCKS THEY HAND OUT SSI TO PEOPLE THAT SNEEZE [moderated] and ernd it im not giving up this time have a good day pray for me on my ssi ….thank you I needed to vent

  6. I was married for 15 years. I am bipolar type 1. I use to tell him all the time that it was inevitable that I would die by suicide. We eventually divorced, but not because I HAD a mental illness. It was because of the things my mental illness symptoms. Mania and depression, if you know the symptoms of bipolar you know there can be extremes on both ends. We are great friends. He has since remarried. If I need him I can just call. I was in an extreme crisis and he invited me to stay at his house.
    I don’t blame him for divorcing me. it really wasn’t his fault. Neither was it mine. You just go down paths of life. I have to take care of myself, monitor my symptoms, see my doctor/therapist and take my meds. I have to fight for my happiness. I don’t look to die by suicide anymore, but I have to be careful and make sure I look after me.

  7. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic
    to be actually something which I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complex and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post,
    I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  8. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation? My website has a lot of unique content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my agreement.
    Do you know any ways to help prevent content from being stolen? I’d genuinely
    appreciate it.

  9. Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a
    sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and
    said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!
    LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell
    someone!

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