Loving Someone with Mental Illness
Individuals diagnosed with mental illness often experience challenges with recognizing early onset symptoms, coping with the illness as well as managing the symptoms. Mental illness is considered any disease or condition that influences the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and/or relates to others and to his or her surroundings. Mental illness can be extremely difficult to manage for individuals but the illness can be further complicated when illness is suffered by one or both parties in a relationship. Mental illness can be difficult for couples to negotiate as the relationship takes a backseat to mental illness symptoms, i.e., behaviors, negative thoughts, treatment options, etc. Managing symptoms associated with the illness can become for all intent and purposes the sole function of the relationship. The stress of dealing with the illness can create a crisis atmosphere throughout the course of a relationship if the person carrying the diagnosis should become symptomatic.
Knowing your partner’s mental health disorder, the signs and symptoms of decompensation, and potential treatment options is the key to managing and dealing with a potential mental health crisis. Many people erroneously believe mental illness prevents a relationship from occurring or causes one to end, however a relationship does not end because one partner has a diagnosis but people and ignorance to the disorder destroys relationships.
Here are some of the challenges partners of those suffering from a mental illness may experience in addition to the everyday nuances of building and maintaining a relationship:
Financial- Financial challenges are true for couples with and without a mental illness. However, financial pertaining to couples with one party that is mentally ill face unique challenges such as the inability of the suffer from locating and maintaining a job because of his/her mental illness or illness led to loss of employment.
Emotional Distancing- Often occurs when the party diagnosed with a mental illness becomes symptomatic, he/she is no longer able to actively participate in the relationship or actively participate in parenting if there are children involved.
Resentment – Partners without a mental illness may even experience resentment towards their partner when they become symptomatic, Resentment can include feelings surrounding why the mentally ill partner will not get help, why he/she cannot just stop the negative or bizarre behavior, why are they distancing themselves from the people that love them, having to take on multiple roles abandoned by the sufferer, i.e., both parents, sole provider, etc.
Loss of relationship- Inability to connect with and rely on one’s mentally ill partner while they are symptomatic. Feeling physically, sexually, and emotionally abandoned.
Embarrassment- Embarrassment typically occurs out of fear that others will know his/her partner suffers from a mental illness, how the couple/family will be viewed by their peers and community, and even the perception of fear by those around the couple. Mental illness is still plagued by stigma, social isolation, lack of adequate education, and unsubstantiated fears.
Colin & Beth
Colin and Beth have been married for 10 years and have a 7-year-old daughter. By all accounts the marriage was a good marriage. However, for the last 5 months Beth has watched as her husband’s behavior became more and more bizarre. Colin no longer sleeps throughout the night, and if she should fall asleep he wakes up repeatedly. There are also noticeable changes in his appetite as he eats only when Beth repeatedly pleads with him to do so, which has led to a noticeable weight loss. Colin has also lost his job as a carpenter because of several complaints from both coworkers and clients surrounding his combative behavior. Beth is the sole financial provider for the family as Colin is no longer employed. Resentment is starting to build as Beth is angry that Colin has stopped taking his medication to treat schizophrenia, she can no longer trust him to supervise their daughter after school prompting her to hire a sitter (which is creating additional financial challenges), his emotional distancing from the family in favor of being alone, and his embarrassing behavior in the community (getting into fights with neighbors once considered to be friends, store clerks, etc. Beth knows very little about schizophrenia, the signs of decompensation, treatment options, and dangers of medication compliance. How should Beth address this problem? Can Colin assist Beth with seeking and securing treatment?