How To Support A Spouse With Mental Illness
In any given year, 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness of some kind (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.). Clearly, this is an issue that affects a great deal of us, particularly the loved ones of those suffering. And mental illness is more than just an individual problem; it is a family concern. Here are some ways to support a spouse or partner with mental illness:
One of the biggest challenges of having a spouse with mental illness is getting him/her to seek out treatment; for a variety of reasons, some people really resist getting help. You need to be supportive and continually encourage him/her to get treatment, which can include medication, counseling, or group therapy. Don’t let these problems continue unchecked-be persistent in encouraging treatment.
The next step is for you to do everything you can to educate yourself on the topic. Talk to health care professionals and read reputable material about the specific type of mental illness your spouse is experiencing. What’s the diagnosis like? What are common symptoms? What has helped other families cope? Although many mental illnesses are extremely manageable these days, the truth is that you’re most likely in it for the long-haul, so get as much information as you can.
Have Realistic Expectations & Boundaries
Mental illness can cause serious impairment in one’s ability to function, hold a job, and have a social life. This may mean that you’ll really have to step it up and perform double-duty in home and work duties. However, having increased responsibilities does not mean that all of the burden should be placed on you. You still should set reasonable boundaries with your spouse. For example, if a spouse with mental illness feels so low and depressed that he/she lashes out at you in anger, you should set a boundary that you need to be respected; experiencing mental illness does not mean that the other person gets a free pass. Consider working with a therapist yourself to figure out how to set realistic family expectations & boundaries.
When you’re a caretaker of someone with mental illness, it’s extremely important that you’re getting enough sleep, eating properly, exercising regularly, and also doing things that feed your soul. By replenishing your own body, mind, and spirit, you’ll prevent burnout and be better able to care for your spouse.
Click here to watch my interview with Good Things Utah about this important topic.
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Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.