Guidance for Loving Someone with a Mental Illness
Loving someone with a mental illness can be painful and confusing. 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 the loved one's 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 I have been with a chronically suicidal woman with borderline personality disorder, another woman with severe obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, as well as a woman with anorexia nervosa coupled with anxiety and depression.
Loving Someone with a Mental Illness When He's 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.
What Can You Do?
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 never take it personally (Adult Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders). So many fights in relationships are caused by one partner assuming that the other partner's emotional withdrawal says something about them, instead of something about their mental illness.
Be Careful What You Say
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 (What Not to Say to Someone with a Mental Illness). 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.
Curry, C. (2012, September 24). Guidance for Loving Someone with a Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2012/09/loving-someone-with-a-mental-illness
Author: Chris Curry
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.
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Yes, I'm aware that I can be a 'whirlwind' (as one friend described) when I'm in the midst of a manic episode. Equally I can be a drain on them when I'm depressed. It doesn't mean that I love them any less, or they me. With the diagnosis out of the way, I can now begin to piece together exactly what is and what is not my illness. Of course, this means relaying this to my loved ones to allow them to know how to react when each side shows more. They are grateful for my advice on how to deal with BP and have asked to attend an appointment with my psychiatrist and social worker to allow them to get a professional viewpoint.
I cannot begin to thank them enough. I know they love my because they wouldn't have stuck by me for the many years in which they have. Talking to your loved ones about your illnesses in an honest and open manner is vitally important, no matter how difficult the subject (i.e. suicidal tenancies). It is important that your loved ones know what you are going through. I am fortunate in the fact that they love me more for being honest.
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I have been married for 33 years and my husband has Alchol Addiction and depression. Some how we have made it this far. We are relieved to know that I have bi-polar 2 and now that I am working on myself through sharing and not blamming he is figuring out what to do about his Alchol abuse.
I have been in therapy for years because of 2 traumas in my life. So it has been hard to find out what the true root was. My aunt, has bi-polar and so does my niece. Lucky for my niece she was in her teens and got help right away. My aunt, in her 80's was cast out by my mom and dad for her bi-polar. My dads father is a total mystery, he died when my dad was 7. My dad told me he neverknew the cause of his death. My grandmother was obese and so is my cousin. All of this is on my father's side of the family.
What is difficult for me right now is my past relationships they think that I should take on being responsible for my past. I have already taken on far too much guilt and blame in my life. I keep reminding myself that the bi polar gave me a lot of behavioral problems which isn't who I am. The real me inside is whole. I am planning to go into a 6 month DBT program as soon as I can. I try to be pro active.
It was so good to share at this moment.
Our daughter showed signs from infancy. She cried longer, had very dramatic temper tantrums. She was our 4th child, so we knew this wasn't normal. We took her for help the first time when she was about six years old. It was a group therapy sort of thing from our HMO. The other kids in the group were dealing with. We had to fight the HMO just to get her in to see one of their Psychiatrists, who eventually diagnosed her.
It has been a long hard road since then. She turned 18 this week, but, it is clear that our parenting obligations aren't about to end, probably until we die. Her older sister has accepted the idea that she will have to step in after that. We were nearly 40 when her sister was born.
Her fits of rage, self harm and physical harm to us has landed her in the pediatric psych unit eight times. She is in a therapeutic non-public school and recently finished a two year stint in residential treatment near home.
Even with all of this, we still have friends and family members who think that all we need to do is come to the realization that we just need to tell her to behave (aka "snap out of it"). I try not to fly into a violent rage of my own, as I hear this again and again, sometimes multiple times from the same person. I don't know if these people really think that with this being our 4th child that we didn't think of that, say, 16 years ago? We did tell her to behave, calm down, snap out of it, knock it off, grow up......etc.
That didn't work.
I think one of the signs that you are dealing with a mentally ill person is that nothing you do as a layman does work. I would tell my other kids to get out of bed and go to school or they were grounded, and it worked. With this child, when I did that, she might tell me to go "f" myself, and slam the door in my face (at the tender age of 12).
After exausting every trick in our experienced parent arsenal, the only thing that helped was years of intensive therapy and medication. I didn't want that to go there, but, we did, and it has helped. She is not cured, because there isn't a cure, but, it has made life a bit easier for all of us. That said, the battle continues, and will continue. We really don't know what will happen on any given day.