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How to Help a Partner with a Mental Illness

There is such a stigma attached to various mental illnesses.

Most people suffering tend to keep it a secret to those they don’t know, for fear of being labeled as “crazy”. When it comes to having a romantic partner, it can be difficult to open up.

Telling your partner about your struggle takes a lot of bravery and trust. If your partner is understanding, that is a very good sign. If not, they aren’t worth staying with. A good partner is one who accepts every part of you. Because that’s all mental illness is, really. Just another part of what makes you as a person. It dictates your strengths and weaknesses, and controls what makes you tick.

For those of you who have a partner with a mental illness, it can get frustrating at times. You want to be able to help your loved one through their struggle, but it is not always effective. This isn’t your fault. It is just as much out of control for your partner. Mental illness is just like any other illness.

There are plenty of ways that you can support your partner through their struggle. Here is how:

1. Understand that your partner is not one to be “dealt with”.

If that’s the perspective you have about the situation, then that’s already a major issue. No one should have to be dealt with. People are not to be dealt with, mentally ill or not. Instead, learn to cope alongside your loved one. Attempting to escape out of fear will help no one.

2. Educate yourself.

Learning about your partner’s mental illness will help you understand where they’re coming from if they become distant or moody. It will also help you realize that their mood is not to be taken personally, and is typically a side effect of whatever is going on in their head. It will mean the world to your partner, as it shows you are committed and willing to sympathize with them and their struggle.

3. Accept that sometimes there isn’t much you can do to help.

Sometimes someone struggling with mental health problems is consistently in emotional pain. A lot of times, loved ones can give up on them, saying that they don’t know what to say or do. They feel like they’ve exhausted their resources and have no more advice to give. But a lot of the times what a mentally ill person seeks is not advice, but just someone to listen and be physically and emotionally there for them.

4. Communicate openly with your partner.

Allow them to communicate with you. Encourage them to speak their mind and tell you exactly how they’re feeling. Listening to them can help them make sense of what’s going on in their brain, and your support and open mind will help them recover from any sort of anxiety or panic they may be feeling.

5. Help them help themselves.

Encourage them to seek therapy, go to support groups, and generally reach out when they need it. As stated earlier, sometimes there isn’t much you yourself can do, and getting them to seek professional help is sometimes the best solution if things get particularly bad. Go with them to the doctor if they ask you to or are afraid to go alone. If they’re in a really bad place and feel suicidal, don’t hesitate to take them to a hospital. Not doing so is harming rather than helping, and it’s imperative that you support them through trying times.

6. Create a safe environment.

Every human being is entitled to feel safe and loved. Sometimes those with a mental illness feel that they do not deserve this basic right, that they are evil or unworthy of love. This simply isn’t true. A safe environment is crucial in the physical and emotional sense. Don’t get mad or frustrated with them so much that they are afraid to come to you in times of crisis. Maintain a safe space where they feel open and comfortable, and unafraid to be vulnerable. In addition, helping them create a good physical environment is also important.

7. Check in on them.

Reminding them to take their pills or eat or any other necessity is a great way to show them that you truly love them. Sometimes your partner may feel overwhelmed or distracted, and will honestly forget. You don’t need to become their keeper, but simple reminders are a healthy way to express how much you care about them.

8. Do not gaslight them.

This is a form of abuse. If there are legitimate problems in your relationship unrelated to your partner’s struggle, do not write it off as just something they’re “imagining” or “making up” as a result of their illness. Let them air their legitimate concerns, and if you are at fault for something bad going on in both of your lives, take responsibility and don’t dismiss your partner’s feelings by insisting that it’s just part of their illness.

9. Don’t tiptoe around them.

You are not on thin ice or walking on eggshells. It is usually not your fault if your partner has any sort of panic or anxiety attack. Treat them how you would treat any significant other, with honesty and love. People dealing with mental illness genuinely want to be treated normally, and doing otherwise can even become a source of your partner’s anxiety.

10. Love them for who they are.

There is way more to your partner than their mental illness. You fell for them for a reason, and what you love about them should be your primary focus. Don’t treat them like freaks because of their struggle. Support them, but also do everything you can to maintain a loving a healthy relationship. They will do the same.