A diagnosis of mental illness can be shocking for both the patient and their loved ones and, unfortunately, lead to a lack of support. Prior to my husband’s schizophrenia diagnosis, I held a skewed view of mental illness believed the stigma surrounding it. After his diagnosis, I repeatedly asked myself why it couldn’t be something more seemingly straightforward, such as anxiety or depression. I learned to accept his illness over time, but it is difficult when others are not able to do the same. The lack of support we've been shown in our struggle hurts.
Mental Illness and Caregivers
Mental health advocacy for a loved one fights the stigma that exists in the most unlikely places. The past few weeks were quite overwhelming. Following a stay in a psychiatric ward, my husband was released. We dealt with multiple issues during that stay, including poor psychiatric care and a bizarre meeting with a highly unethical psychiatrist to discuss said care. In short, be aware that psychiatric hospitalization, while very important, also may lend itself to abuse of power. Involve yourself in your loved one's care because mental health advocacy for your loved one is crucial.
This post was particularly difficult for me to write because mental health hospitalization is not easy to talk about thanks to mental health hospitalization stigma. This stigma is profound, and both the stigma and the hospitalization itself places great strain on both the individual requiring treatment and their loved ones. I struggled with what to write, who to write it for, and if I should even post at all. If you know me or have read my page, you will know that I write for HealthyPlace because my husband has a mental illness. He has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He also writes for HealthyPlace as a coauthor of "Creative Schizophrenia." Since his last hospitalization, we moved halfway across the country, had our third child, bought a house to renovate, found good jobs, and learned to work through his minor relapses. A couple of days ago, his condition deteriorated. He suffered a significant relapse and displayed signs of dealing with a significant psychotic episode. Even though I blog about coping with a family member's mental illness, I dreaded what came next and the response from those around us. As I drove him to the hospital, I felt the sting of stigma over his mental health hospitalization.
Emotional validation counteracts the lack of stability that may accompany living with a family member suffering from mental illness. Indeed, that lack of stability is challenging to endure. My husband and I usually live day to day or week to week without knowing what our future might hold. Yet, the best way to cope with this instability is to work together and focus on emotional validation.
Caregiver mental health is important. The last couple of weeks were quite a struggle for me. Maybe this was related to the constant speed of life or the change in seasons. I'm not sure, but as a spouse to someone with mental illness, I take on extra responsibilities and my mental health as a caregiver comes into play.
Recently I was asked how I cope with caring for a partner with mental illness. Do I cope day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, or does it vary? What a complicated question.
Mental illness can impact a family in many ways, and the children of parents with mental illness need loving support. Children are very sensitive and sometimes clue into differences in behavior that adults miss. As adults, we are often caught up with other concerns: our careers, finances or the latest Netflix series, to name a few. We sometimes forget to pay attention to those around us and may overlook subtle changes. Children, on the other hand, notice everything. I say this from experience: children of parents with mental illness see and feel all of it.
If you belong to a family with mental illness, you need a support group. Between the genetic factors of mental illness and their coexisting conditions and effects (addiction, codependency, criminal activity, divorce, abuse, and more), families with mental illness need a place to sort it all out with people who share their experiences. Different from one-on-one therapy or chatting with a friend, you can find strength, validation, and belonging in a support group for families with mental illness.
In every marriage with mental illness, taking care of the caregiver is as important as taking care of the mentally ill spouse. Too often we focus on the needs of the mentally ill spouse and forget that the partner supporting them needs love and support as well (The Role of Caregivers for People with Mental Illness). Without much-needed support, caregivers can experience burnout. Not only can their health be compromised if they experience caregiver burnout, but they will also be unable to support their mentally ill spouse. In every marriage with mental illness, taking care of the caregiver is essential.
Mentally ill spouses often feel that finding ways to give to your spouse is impossible. When it takes all the will you have just to get out of bed in the morning, tending to someone else can seem laughable. And yet, the more I have shifted my focus off of my own suffering and onto the needs of my husband, the stronger my marriage becomes and the better I feel about myself. I think it's important for mentally ill spouses to give what they can to their marriages.