Married to mental health
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor
17th October, 20130 Comments
With as many as one in four being affected by mental health problems, it can hardly come as a surprise that mental health can have an impact on the health of relationships. A good example is if a partner is depressed or withdrawn, it can be hard to reach out and the partners can drift apart.
Couples still find mental health a difficult subject to talk about. While it is okay to talk about stress, unfortunately being depressed still has a stigma attached to it. Indeed many clients almost seem ashamed that they have this condition and that somehow it is a reflection of the relationship.
Often partners find it difficult to talk about mental health problems through a need to protect their partner from the news. You know that they will worry so you hold back. Eventually it becomes a subject that you can’t talk about and a wedge is slowly driven into the relationship. Neither partner is truly in touch with the other, so they start to assume and guess what they know and this can lead to further problems.
There is research showing that strong enduring relationships can boost mental health, so taking the time to nourish your relationship has this very positive effect on your own health. Yet that same strength needs to be used when one of you falls ill. There are many stories of one partner keeping their illness a secret for months before it bursts out. Perhaps the first decision is to agree to get help, offer your partner the support and time they need. Work in tandem with their treatment plan by asking how you can help.
Unfortunately the statistics are not on the side of relationships when it comes to significant mental illness, with as many as 75% failure rate. This highlights the need not only to get treatment for the affected partner, but also to get support for the caregiver.
As with so many marriage challenges the key lies in effective communication and in talking to each other openly and honestly. Rather than bottling up fears and worries, when you talk about them you often find that your partner shares them.
There can be little doubt that knowing your enemy can help you fight mental illness and, if your partner is affected, that same knowledge is invaluable in supporting them to a recovery. If you are dealing with an anxiety based disorder, how do you deal with panic attacks or OCD behaviour? Researching the illness can help you understand it further and learn how to cope. It also helps you to prevent yourself colluding with unhelpful behaviours that may maintain the illness. Most of all it helps to set your expectations so you can have reasonable expectations of what might happen in terms of a recovery and any improvement.
There can be little doubt that all of this has an effect both on your relationship and on your own emotional reserves, and you may find either family counselling, couples counselling or individual counselling helps to offer the support needed to get through the difficult road you travel.
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