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11 tips on supporting a partner with mental illness

When you have a partner living with mental illness, all you want for them is to be well. However, it can take a lot of trial and error to get certain mental conditions under manageable control. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffer with some form of mental illness, and without the right treatment, it can cause chaos in a relationship. So how do you deal in a partnership when you’re supporting a partner who is affected? Here are some tips on navigating the storm.

It’s not personal

First things first, mental illness is not personal. As your partner battles the ups and downs, these fluctuations in mood and attitude can be upsetting for a partner to experience. However, just as much as these fluctuations may hurt you, your partner is most likely hurting from experiencing them too. Don’t allow mental illness to run your relationship by getting sucked into blaming one another. Just see it as another challenge you’ll be facing together.

Encourage your partner to get the help they need

It’s vital to encourage your partner to seek professional help for their mental health if they aren’t already. Hoping for the best or assuming it will pass can be dangerous and may cause long term or irreversible damage. Take an active and realistic approach to mental healthcare, just like you would to a physical ailment.

Not only will your partner benefit from professional treatment, you can learn from a mental health professional what your role in your partner's treatment plan should look like. If health insurance or medical costs are a concern, look into free state programs or reach out to individual providers about pro-bono offerings. It can take some time to find what you’re looking for but will be worth the search.

If your partner is hesitant to seek help, suggest that you come with them to offer support. You can’t force someone to get help unless they are a threat to themselves or others.

Educate yourself

Gaining a deeper insight into what your partner is experiencing is necessary in helping them on their journey to recovery. It’s now easier than ever to educate yourself on specific aspects of mental illness from the vast collections of books available, blogs, sub-reddits, and websites dedicated to documenting experiences. First hand accounts can be especially helpful if your partner doesn’t have the best way with words when trying to describe their experiences. When looking for specific medical information, stick to legitimate sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic and Medline Plus.

Don’t get hung up on labels

Certain words like depression can be scary and can have a lot of social weight around them. Though it’s important to be educated and mindful about the realities of your partner's mental illness, try not to get bogged down by the labels. Understand that your partner is not defined by their illness and they are still the person you love and admire.

Stick to a routine

Routines are a great way to balance mental illness, giving a sense of independence and purpose to your partner. They can be a smart way to to incorporate medication, regular eating, and healthy sleep patterns as well as help you identify when something is off about your partner. Support the development of a healthy routine by developing a schedule, creating to do lists, or setting calendar reminders on your smart phones.

Pick up some healthy habits together

Expanding on the idea of a routine, daily exercise has proven to be hugely beneficial for those living with mental health issues. It can also be a great bonding experience and fun way to spend face time with your partner everyday.

Studies on the link between clean eating and improved mental health have boomed within our societies current wellness craze and for good reason. Cutting sugar and lowering your intake of processed foods can vastly improve your mood. Furthermore, the added time spent putting together healthy, thoughtful meals is just more quality time with your partner. Get into the weekday meal prep habit and enjoy cooking meals at home more often.

Break typical relationship rules

There is not ‘one size fits all’ model for dealing with mental illness so feel free to make the rules of your partnership as you go. Regularly adjusting your needs to fit your personal circumstances can be vastly beneficial instead of trying to fit yourself into a the box of how you think relationships should be. This could include living or sleeping arrangements, time spent together, or financial responsibility. Exploring some form of an open relationship has worked for some, especially if your partner's sex drive is lowered due to their medication.

Communicate Openly

Open communication means speaking your truth, actively listening, and having respect for one another's feelings. Encourage your partner to communicate how they feel, no matter how messy or complicated it may seem and offer to do the same for them.

Communication is essential in working together to manage mental illness. This can include checking in throughout the day via texts or weekly check ins to discuss the goals and intentions for the following week.

Take care of yourself

Partnership can be stressful, even without mental illness playing a role. The urge to take on everything and ignore your own wellbeing can be a hard dynamic to break but it’s important to stop this way of thinking. The relationship stress of mental illness goes both ways and it’s important to take time to yourself to unwind and recharge. Without quality self care, you won’t be any use to yourself or your partner. This could be as simple as enjoying some quiet time with a book, treating yourself to a massage, or going out for a walk alone. Self care can be practiced in many different ways, but the common goal is making oneself feeling energized, grounded, and ready to take on a challenge.

Seek out your own support

It's easy to deplete your own inner resources when providing emotional support to a partner with mental illness, leaving you feeling unsupported through your own struggles. Seek out your own support if your partner isn’t in a position to provide it. This can be in the form of spousal support groups, private counseling sessions, or talking to trusted family and friends. Not only can this help blow off some steam, professional advice can help you deal with stress as well as teach you vital communication techniques.

It’s not your responsibility to fix your partner

As a partner to someone dealing with mental illness, you are here to support, not to fix. Ultimately, they are the ones responsible for their own progress. You are simply helping guide them down a path they need to walk themselves.

Setting up boundaries to avoid enabling or co-dependency by deciding how much you want to contribute towards their recovery. Avoid placing yourself in a situation where your partner gives you the responsibility for the management of their illness. You want to be supportive, not make them dependent on you.

Although patience is key when it comes to getting mental health issues under control, it is also ok to understand your own limits and when the relationship may not be working for you anymore. This is still a partnership that requires equal effort from everyone involved and if your needs aren’t being met, it’s ok to evaluate whether you want the relationship to continue. 



National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness - 1-800-950-6264

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance - 1-800-826-3632

Mental Health America - 1-800-969-6642

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