Supporting a partner with mental health challenges
Supporting a partner who has mental health challenges, can be a stressful and sometimes lonely position to be in. You may find yourself the only one that is aware of what your partner is going through, as quite often people do not want friends and family to know; and may feel that having the support of their partner is enough. Additionally, although it may sometimes feel otherwise, it is not a reflection on your relationship. For the supportive partner, however, all of this can be a lot to shoulder on their own, with a lot of conflicting feelings.
On the one hand, being totally committed to supporting someone that they love and care for, whilst not wanting to betray their confidence, and yet at the same time trying to cope with the worry and stresses that the situation brings. Perhaps not wanting to ask too much of them, even if both partners are working full time; maybe not bringing up things that need to be talked about, for fear of overloading them, having to lie about why their partner hasn’t accompanied them to a social gathering, to name just a few. It can be draining, tiring and testing. Not least because dealing with negativity on a day to day basis, is challenging, and finding it so, is no reflection on a person's character, or a measure of how much someone does or doesn’t care.
If there is an agreement from the person struggling with their mental health to seek counselling, this can sometimes lighten the load for those in the role of supporter, as at least there is someone else that their partner is confiding in; and talking to about what they are going through. Of course, this course of action cannot be forced, only suggested and supported; letting them know that you are there to help, should they wish to follow this up. Problem-solving isn’t always what is needed, often it is just to listen, and being there.
However, the supporting partner may equally hear phrases such as ‘I have you, I don’t need to talk to anyone else’. This can sometimes feel like quite a responsibility, particularly if there has been talk about not being able to see the point in anything. The fact is that whilst it may not always feel like it, the person supporting is likely to be making a huge difference, just by being there; understanding, supporting, caring.
Self-care for the carer
Being in the role of carer and supporter can be a heavy weight to carry, so it can be extremely helpful to have other things in place, as part of self-care. This may be a hobby, sport, or friendship group, in addition to considering having personal counselling, so that there is somewhere that everything can be talked through in confidence, with no judgement over the different feelings and experiencing that the situation has brought about.
To talk about the impact on the relationship, from an emotional, personal and sometimes sexual perspective, as the dynamics of a relationship can be influenced greatly when it involves one person being in a supportive role, and one person struggling with day to day life. Sometimes people feel selfish taking time out from their role as a carer, to do things for themselves, but actually, this self-care is essential, not just for personal well-being, but in order to be better placed to continue to be able to be there for a loved one.
Mental health is an invisible illness, which may mean that you underplay your role, how much you do, and your needs. However, it is unlikely that if someone is struggling with their mental health, that this will not also impact on their partner in some way. It can be a joint challenge, something that you are facing together.
It may be that there are activities or hobbies that used to be shared, and could be worth revisiting, especially if they involve any sort of exercise, known to be a positive influence on mental health. This could be running, cycling, the gym, or just simply long walks together. Taking time out to exercise, can be a great distraction from negative thought patterns that are going on, in addition to the beneficial release of endorphins, which help to lessen symptoms of depression, and bringing about more restful sleep.
Most importantly, don’t be embarrassed to seek help and support for yourself. It is not selfish; it is self-care.