If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, you may find that loving them can sometimes be stressful. If they suffer from mood swings or require a lot of support, you may wonder if you’re providing them with the help they need or enabling unhealthy behaviors.
If that describes your situation, you are not alone. Mental illness is not uncommon. In fact, one in five people will experience a serious depression at least once in their lives.
Of course, knowing that mental illness is common doesn’t make it easier to understand or manage. Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others can take a toll on relationships; on the other hand, when these conditions are well-managed, people can enjoy rewarding lives complemented by healthy, loving relationships. Here we’ll explore how to love someone who has a serious mental health condition.
5 Tips for Loving Someone with a Mental Health Disorder
If you’re involved with someone who has a mental illness, you probably already know that it can be challenging from one day to the next as your loved one’s symptoms change. Mental illness–any illness–can place stress on a relationship. Finding ways to cope with this stress in healthy ways can be the key to a healthy relationship. Use these tips to support yourself and your loved one in the best possible ways. You can benefit too.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to become more educated on the type of mental illness your loved one is experiencing. Whether it’s post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, there will always be benefits from a deeper understanding of the disorder.
When learning about the disorder, pay close attention to symptoms. Learning to identify symptoms is the first step to improving their management. You can perform research online about the illness or speak with a mental healthcare provider. The better you understand the illness, the better equipped you can become to cope–and help your loved one cope as well.
Prioritize Healthy Communication
Any relationship can suffer from poor communication, and poor communication can cause a relationship to unravel. Healthy communication means that you and your loved one can speak openly about issues without resorting to angry outbursts. Sometimes a person with a mood disorder might experience emotional outbursts. Try to be patient and encourage them to speak calmly. If you find yourself struggling with communication, it may be helpful to consult a counselor for personalized support.
Cultivate a Team
Although you’re involved with someone who has a mental illness, you’re probably not their only important relationship–and that’s good. It can be helpful to cultivate a wider support network of family members and friends. Sometimes you may need a break; you may have to travel for work or to visit other family and friends. When you have a team in place, you can rely on your support system during those times when you have to be away.
No one should have to be the only “caretaker” in a relationship. While it’s only natural that your loved one will depend on you, that dependence level ideally will be within a healthy range.
Because dependence can be problematic, make a point to encourage your loved one to be independent as much as possible. It’s important for both of you to have independence. Co-dependent relationships can quickly become unhealthy. Besides, pursuing your own independent interests can be life-giving and renewing. In any relationship, a measure of independence is a sign of its health.
Remember that it’s healthy to set boundaries in any relationship. Your relationship is, of course, a significant priority in your life, but your individual life is also important. Preserve your interests and help your loved one preserve their own unique interests. In the end, this can actually enrich your relationship.
If you find yourself becoming exacerbated, take a break. Always ensure that your loved one is safe, of course, but be intentional about recharging your spirits. Often, a mental health disorder will ebb and flow. When you’re facing a challenging period where symptoms are intense, you might simply need to a morning to recoup or an evening on your own to enjoy some calm. (Anxiety, whether on the part of the caregiver or the person struggling, can make any relationship difficult. Here are some ideas to consider when anxiety flares up: 6 Tips for Overcoming Anxiety That’s Hurting Your Relationships.)
Are you practicing self-care? Self-care looks different for different people. For some, self-care is setting aside time each day to visit the gym. For others, it’s having quiet alone time to read or perform a hobby. When you get busy and your relationship requires more intense attention, don’t forget that you need time to de-stress. Remember, your loved one may not be able to provide you with the care you need all the time; caring for yourself becomes even more important during these periods.
The Importance of Not Enabling
In the mental health context, enabling means engaging in behaviors that support someone else’s negative behaviors. In short, enabling is not a sign of a healthy relationship. For example, your loved one might not want to attend therapy. They might become angry when you suggest they attend their therapy sessions. Backing down and supporting their choice to avoid meeting with their therapist is an enabling behavior; you would be supporting their unhealthy choice.
Often, people don’t even realize when they’re being an enabler. They’re trying to support their loved one, trying to show love. However, that type of support is not helpful in the big scheme of things. If you know that you are enabling your loved one in some way, it is possible that a counselor could help you learn strategies for ending these enabling behaviors.
When Should You Seek Help?
Seeking help early and as soon as possible is a good rule of thumb. Often, people wait until they are overwhelmed to find support. Of course, if you are feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next, you should seek the advice of a mental health expert. You are not a therapist, so you aren’t going to have all of the answers for coping with a loved one’s mental illnes and helping them manage it.
A mental health therapist may be able to work with you and your partner to identify problematic behaviors, so you can address these issues together. Any relationship can benefit from support during challenging times; someone who has mental health expertise is a particularly valuable resource for couples who are trying to navigate relationship issues related to a mental disorder.
During therapy meetings, a therapist or counselor can help you and your loved one set relationship goals. You can develop expectations and work on meeting them at your own pace. For many couples, this outside support helps couples overcome obstacles and fix problems that may be hurting their relationship.
If you’re thinking of ending your relationship because it’s becoming too difficult but still love your partner, it may be helpful to consult a therapist. Or, if your loved one’s symptoms are becoming progressively more worrisome and unmanageable, they may benefit from inpatient treatment and close medical supervision by a caring team of doctors and therapists. You don’t have to do all of the caring on your own. For more information about the supports available, contact FHE Health today.