A Guide for Helping a Spouse with a Mental Illness
About 1 in 5 people suffer from a mental illness, and that person could be your life partner. Living with someone with mental illness is certainly no easy feat, and it can be draining and confusing. Marriage is already a bond that takes effort to build every single day, and mental illness can be seen as an obstacle at times, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you want to have a successful and happy marriage with a spouse who has a mental illness, you will have to practice communicating and being supportive while also taking care of yourself.
Read our guide to see how you can help your partner live a fulfilling and wonderful life.
Signs Your Spouse Has a Mental Illness
There’s no one test that can determine whether you or your spouse has a mental illness. Although each mental health disorder has its own unique set of symptoms, signs of mental illness are pretty general. You can get a good idea of whether you have one based on these physical and mental signs:
- Excessive sadness
- Trouble sleeping or feeling tired
- Strong feelings of anger or irritability
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Having suicidal thoughts
- Extreme mood swings (i.e. going from feeling depressed to feeling euphoric quickly)
- Having hallucinations or delusions, or difficulty perceiving reality
- Isolation from friends
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Changes in sex drive
- Changes in appetite
Signs of irritability or laziness in your spouse might seem like ordinary character flaws, but they could also be signs of mental illness. Make sure to observe your spouse closely and talk to your doctor if any behaviors seem out of the ordinary.
Risk Factors for Developing a Mental Illness
Some people can be predisposed to having a mental illness. Mental health disorders aren’t always preventable, but by attending therapy or another form of counseling, you can prevent your existing disorder from getting worse.
A few risk factors for developing mental health disorders include:
- Family history of mental illness
- Child abuse or neglect
- Traumatic experiences like sexual assault or military combat
- Having a previous mental illness
- A lack of healthy relationships
- Stressful life situations, like divorce or financial problems
Mental Illness and Addiction
Mental illness and addiction commonly go hand in hand, ending up as co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis. Many people who struggle with mental health disorders end up abusing drugs or alcohol to numb and mask their pain, and this can result in a co-occurring addiction. About 8 million people in the U.S. suffer from co-occurring disorders.
When people abuse drugs and alcohol over a long period of time, these substances affect the brain’s reward center and produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which emits feelings of pleasure and contentment. Over time, the body requires more and more of said substance to produce dopamine, and your brain won’t naturally produce it anymore. At this point, addicts will keep abusing drugs even if they know it’s unhealthy and wrong.
If your spouse has both a mental illness and drug addiction, the specialists at Renewal Behavioral Health can refer you to an addiction treatment center that will provide the help your partner needs. Co-occurring disorders are serious and must be treated simultaneously for a successful recovery.
5 Ways to Deal with Mental Illness in a Spouse
Mental health disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder can produce symptoms in someone that is frustrating for someone else to deal with. Although there are various challenges associated with living with someone with mental illness, there are techniques you can put into practice to make life easier for you and your spouse.
Understand Your Spouse’s Mental Illness
One of the best things you can do when living with a spouse with mental illness is to learn about it and understand it. Living with someone who has bipolar disorder, for example, can pose some difficulty since symptoms of manic depression aren’t always visible.
To better understand what your spouse is dealing with, you should research symptoms of their mental illness, whether they include severe ones like panic attacks or mild ones like difficulty concentrating. You should also talk with your spouse about their personal experiences with their mental disorder.
In addition to talking with your partner, seek the advice of medical professionals and counselors who specialize in your spouse’s mental illness. Research any medical information, resources, and literature online and at the library to learn more about the disorder.
Since there can be a wealth of misinformation on the internet, make sure to refer to trusted websites and organizations like Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
Communicate with Your Spouse
Ask your spouse what you can do to help them with their mental illness. It’s not uncommon to feel like you’re walking on eggshells with your partner, worrying that you might say the wrong thing that will set them off.
When your spouse does something that hurts you, even if they didn’t mean it, make sure to talk about it with them afterward. Work on your relationship the way you would normally if mental illness wasn’t involved.
You also shouldn’t become your spouse’s enabler or therapist. As much as you’ll want to support your partner, they also need to be getting the proper treatment that will help them manage their condition.
People with mental illness are responsible for their own treatment and well being, so don’t be their “crutch.” However, you still want to be supportive and offer comfort when your partner is recovering from distressing symptoms or getting treatment.
There are dozens of support groups for people and families of people with mental illnesses. NAMI and DBSA both host regional support groups in which you can discuss how your spouse’s mental health disorder has made life difficult for you. If your spouse is suffering from both a mental illness and an addiction, Al-Anon and Nar-Anon provide support for people with family members or loved ones who suffer from alcohol or drug abuse.
You don’t have to be alone in your struggle with your partner’s mental illness. There are thousands of others who have been through similar situations, and they can offer you sympathy and advice. You might also find it helpful for you and your spouse with mental illness to attend couples counseling together so that you can better understand how to navigate your relationship.
There are also forums online on websites like Reddit where you can discuss your experiences dealing with a spouse with a mental illness. In r/BipolarSOs, significant others of people with bipolar disorder share advice on living with someone with mental illness.
Focus on Your Marriage Outside of Mental Illness
Maintain the good parts of your marriage that don’t have to do with your spouse’s mental illness: the deep connection you have, spending quality time together, and expressing your love for each other. It’s easy for mental illness to consume a marriage. However, by maintaining open communication and working on your relationship every day, you’ll leave no room for secrets or surprises.
Take Care of Yourself
One of the most important things you can do while living with someone with mental illness is practice self-care. You must make your mental health a priority because if you’re not okay, then neither will your relationship.
Exercise, take a walk, spend an evening with friends, read a good book or journal. Do things that make you feel at peace and keep your mind at ease. In any healthy relationship, it’s important to still pursue activities and interests that bring you joy. When you stay on top of your own health, you can be a more supportive and engaged partner to your spouse.
Remember, you don’t want to burn out while living with a spouse with mental illness. By following these five techniques, you can strive for a healthy partnership and not let the disorder take a central role in your lives.
Can Marriage Survive a Mental Illness?
Some marriages can survive a mental illness, and some can’t. There are many people with mental illness who have gotten the treatment and medication they needed, and they’ve gone on to have happy marriages and fulfilling lives. However, there are times when a spouse’s mental illness can be too hard for a significant other to handle, and they end up getting divorced.
Every person is different, and as a result, every marriage is different. If your loved one has a mental illness, that might end up taking a central role in your relationship, and you might end up becoming the constant caretaker. This can certainly cause stress, anguish, and resentment.
It all depends on how much you can handle. Understand that living with someone with mental illness is something you’ll have to face head-on, and it takes dedication to make the relationship work.
Getting Your Spouse Treatment for a Mental Illness
Let’s say your spouse has a mental illness and they don’t know it. You have seen signs and symptoms and have consulted your doctor, but your partner is oblivious or in denial and it’s causing trouble in your relationship. At this point, it’s important to get them help for their disorder.
If your spouse is resistant to getting treatment, ask him or her to go to the doctor with you. This way, they don’t have to go alone and they can have someone be with them for moral support. Your doctor can then give your loved one the medication and additional treatment they need to manage their mental health disorder.
Renewal Behavioral Health offers several types of treatment programs for people with the following mental health disorders:
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BDP)
- Dual diagnosis (co-occurring disorders)
Inpatient Mental Health Treatment
Inpatient mental health treatment is the most intensive program offered at Renewal Behavioral Health. Inpatient treatment is best for people who have moods, thoughts, and behaviors that are out of control or have severe anxiety and depression.
Some of the services we offer in inpatient treatment include:
Outpatient Mental Health Treatment
If your spouse has mild symptoms of mental illness, outpatient treatment is their best option. Outpatient treatment allows patients with mental health issues to also balance other responsibilities like work and school. By attending treatment a few times a week during the day and spending the rest of your free time working on yourself, you can achieve harmony in your life and in your marriage.
Like inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment also offers group therapy, individual therapy, meditation, and yoga.
When your spouse gets help for their mental illness, they’ll be able to be a better partner and live a fuller life while taking control of their condition.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
If your spouse experiences co-occurring disorders, he or she will need more than just mental health treatment. People with a dual diagnosis will also need to go through medical detox, which rids the body of their drug of choice and eliminates physical dependency on it.
Since your spouse has had drugs or alcohol in their system for a long time, their body has gotten used to its effects and needs it to function daily. When detox abruptly stops the flow of drugs into your system, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms like nausea, headaches, and dizziness. These will go away with time or be monitored with medication like naloxone or methadone.
Once detox is complete, your spouse will enroll in inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment to psychologically recover from drug or alcohol abuse.
Get Your Spouse Help for a Mental Illness Today
You and your spouse deserve a chance at a happy and lifelong marriage. If your partner is suffering from a mental illness, contact Renewal Behavioral Health today to learn more about the various mental health treatments offered at our facility.
Mental illness doesn’t have to be a dark cloud over your life. Find peace and clarity by taking control of your condition.