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How to Be Supportive When Your Partner Has a Mental Illness

You don’t need a diagnosis yourself to help

My girlfriend and I are poster children for couples who struggle with mental illness. Both of us have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which we treat independently with a combination of counseling and medication. But being with someone who has a deep understanding of the peculiar anguish associated with my problems — which is only possible because she too suffers from the same thing — has also been immensely helpful. I can always rely on her to hear me out, which can be extremely difficult for anyone unfamiliar with the oftentimes irrational issues that stem from living with anxiety and depression.

You can, however, still be a supportive partner even if you don’t suffer from mental illness and your significant other does. Here, in fact, is some advice from people who help their partners cope with mental illness on a daily basis…

Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help

There’s much nuance to this question, because depression can range from mild to severe and can even include psychotic features such as hallucinations and delusions on the more extreme end of the spectrum,” says Greg, a clinical psychologist whose wife suffers from chronic anxiety and depression. “For those experiencing mild to moderate depression, they’re likely to demonstrate lower energy levels, fatigue, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, reduced interest in social and recreational activities and a withdrawal from social interactions.”

“If you want to maintain a relationship with these folks, you’re going to have to extend yourself beyond your previous comfort levels,” Greg continues. “This may take the form of more frequent phone calls, making yourself more available to listen and engage socially and invitations to join in activities to ‘get out of the house,’ perhaps with mutual friends. All of this is likely to require patience and maybe a lot of it for longer than you’d like.”

“Those individuals experiencing more severe or chronic depression, and certainly those who express thoughts of suicide or self-harm, should be directed to a qualified mental health professional,” Greg adds. “Medication will need to be considered as well as hospitalization. In the most extreme situations, it may be necessary to call 911 and ask for an immediate evaluation for hospitalization. If you want to maintain the relationship, stay the course.”

Research Their Specific Disorder

Being a good partner to someone with mental health issues involves patience and making effort to understand your loved one’s disorder,” says my girlfriend, Artemis. “That means being mindful of potential triggers, as well as being careful not to enable dysfunctional or addictive behaviors; for example, if your loved one has a history of disordered eating, pay attention to the ways they speak about food — discourage ‘diet’ talk, check in with them if they say they haven’t eaten all day or seem to be stuck on how much they ate for lunch, set a healthy example with your own eating habits (i.e., it’s probably not a good idea to start that juice cleanse) and remind them that no matter how much they may be struggling to care for themselves that you definitely care about them. Also, giving us the benefit of the doubt when we’re acting crazy that it actually doesn’t have anything to do with you, but rather the fact that we have a war going on in our mind, is a pretty good rule of thumb.”

Show Them That They’re More Than Their Illness

“My main takeaway would be to set a good example for your partner and make them feel secure about the fact that you’re not going to abandon them due to their illness,” Artemis says. “Literally everyone with a clinical disorder is afraid of being unlovable.”

Provide Them with CBD

“My girlfriend isn’t on any medications, but I bought her first CBD pen, and ever since, I’ve tried to keep her from running out of them,” says Cruz, whose girlfriend suffers from chronic anxiety. “She’s had a lot of improvement in managing her anxiety and uses a 16:1 CBD to THC ratio cartridge.”

Listen to Their Problems

“I basically let him know that he should never feel like he can’t tell me what’s on his mind or when he’s really struggling,” says Emma, whose boyfriend (the above-mentioned Cruz) struggles with chronic anxiety and depression. “I’m always ready to listen or talk about things with him. The main thing is reassuring him that he’s not alone and that he always has me to share these things with.”

Check in with Them Often

“My girlfriend gets really anxious if she doesn’t hear from me for a while, especially if she knows I’m on a long drive or traveling for work,” Cruz explains. “I try to FaceTime with her as often as possible — at least a few times a day. That way, we get to connect not only through text: We can make eye contact and hear each other’s voices. She says it’s reassuring, and I find that it helps me stay grounded, too.”

Perform Self-Care Together

“Doing little self-care things together, like applying face masks, is also something that I know he enjoys, and I think it helps him relax,” Emma explains. “We also go on walks together, since I know that exercise is never a bad idea when it comes to improving your mental health.”

And on a final note, while it’s important to lookout for your partner and their mental health, it’s equally important to do the same for yourself. In fact, sometimes the best way to help someone with their problems is to show them how you solve your own.