How to support your partner when they’re struggling with their mental health
- Sometimes it can be hard to know how to best support your partner when they’re suffering with poor mental health
- While nothing can replace professional help, there’s still a lot you can do for a partner while they’re going through a rough patch
- Here are some tips on how help your partner if they’re struggling to cope
Globally, more than 264 million people suffer from depression. An estimated 284 million suffer from anxiety. 10.7% of the global population suffer from mental health disorders. So, the chances of being in a relationship where at least one of you suffers from a mental health issue are not exactly slim.
Mental health issues are complex, so it’s important to have some understanding of them if you’re in a relationship with someone who’s suffering. You don’t need to have a PhD in psychology, though – compassion, patience and empathy will go a long way.
Read up on your partner’s condition
If your partner has been diagnosed with a specific condition – be it depression, generalised anxiety, bipolar disorder or something else – read up on it. Don’t expect your partner to explain everything to you.
Educating yourself on the ins and outs of your partner’s condition will be a huge benefit to you as well as them. While some of their actions may occasionally come across as hurtful, in most cases their behaviour will be a symptom of their condition – learning about the specificities of their particular illness will hopefully help you understand that their actions aren’t personal.
Certified psychiatrist Dr. Steve Levine explains to Bustle: “the more you know, the better you’ll be able to support, and it also signals interest in trying to understand what [they’re] going through.”
Ask them what they want
It sounds obvious, but another good first step is simply asking your partner what help they want.
However, in some cases, your partner might well push you away or refuse to communicate as a result of the difficulties they’re going through. Speaking to Bustle, licensed therapist Scott Dehorty says: “there are many mental illnesses that lead to isolation and withdrawal.”
While it can be difficult, it’s vital that you don’t get visibly frustrated or angry at your partner if they’re not cooperating with you, as it’s most likely their illness that’s encouraging them to shut you out. Be patient, give them a bit of space, and then try and open up a dialogue at another time when you’re both feeling calmer.
Dehorty continues: “consistent communication is key. Just checking in with one another is helpful.”
Your partner won’t expect you to be a mental health professional. You don’t have to give them counselling or try and figure out the root of their problems. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just listen.
Speaking to Bustle, Dr. Levine says: “Many of us feel that support requires an active intervention. However, action is often in the service of tempering our own feelings of helplessness when faced with a suffering loved one. Much of the time, the mere act of being present and listening is the most supportive.”
So don’t fret if you don’t have all the answers to your partner’s problems – chances are, you won’t know why they feel the way they feel. But that doesn’t mean you’re not doing enough.
Dr. Levine continues: “practice remaining calm and feeling non-judgmental. We may not be able to understand or relate to the experience of a partner’s mental health issues, but calm acceptance reduces feelings of isolation and the panic of potential rejection.”
If you’ve never struggled with mental health issues, it may be tempting to tell your partner ‘not to worry’ or to ‘cheer up’. While these platitudes might be well-meaning, chances are they’ll only make your partner feel more alone and misunderstood.
Speaking to Bustle, psychological assistant Megan E. Johnson explains that “sometimes people just feel depressed for no good reason. In that case, it’s not helpful to point out how great their life is and how they have no reason to be sad. They likely already know that and feel guilty about it. You saying they have nothing to be depressed about can come off as dismissive.”
Try and validate their feelings instead. This doesn’t mean that you should encourage them to wallow in their feelings – but don’t try and negate their pain. Acknowledge that you don’t fully understand how they feel but stress to them that their experience is valid and real.
Johnson continues: “say things like, ‘I can’t imagine what that must feel like’ or offer ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ You don’t need to be an expert or understand from a place of experience in order to be supportive. You simply need to be present and accepting of their feelings.”
Your partner is still your partner at the end of the day; they’re still the same person you’ve grown to know and love. If they’re going through a rough patch, there’s no need to tread on eggshells around them – in fact, doing so might make them feel even more isolated.
If you usually cook dinner or watch TV together every Saturday night, continue to ask them if they’d like to do this. Routine is essential for anyone struggling with mental health issues, so even committing to something as small as having your evening meal together at 7pm every day can make a whole world of difference.
But again, don’t get annoyed if they keep saying no. The important thing is to keep asking, as it’s likely they’ll appreciate the sustained effort from you, even if they don’t feel up to doing much stuff together. One day, they will say ‘yes’ again.