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How can you help your partner when they are suffering a mental health issue?

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Did you know that 45% of people in Australia will suffer from some form of mental health issue in their lifetime?

Last year alone 1 in 5 Australian’s, 20% of the population, close to 3.3 million people experienced a mental health disorder.

With mental health issues so prevalent in our society it is likely that if it’s not you who is suffering, it will be your partner, close friend, family member, work colleague or a multitude of those close to you in life.

When it comes to our relationships mental health issues can be very tough to deal with as they impact not only the person suffering, but often those closest to them, including partners and children.

If overlooked, mental health can have relationship ending consequences for a couple that may be premature because mental health issues have not been noticed, treated or dicsussed.

In the end there is only so much strain a relationship can take before breaking and if the mental health issue goes undetected as the conflict rages or resentments set in and the pairing split, the issue is only likely to repeat in a future relationship.

This is why it is important that should you sense a change in your partners behaviour and begin to suspect that they may be suffering some form of mental health issue you act on it.

This could be depression, anxiety or perhaps the symptoms of an even more serious psychological condition such as bi-polar or schizophrenia.

For couples who come into my care when a mental health concern has been raised, the most difficult part of the journey to seeking help was initially identifying the difference between a bad day, or something far more serious.

So if you find yourself in relationship with someone you deeply love, who is clearly struggling with their mental health, what can you do?

There are signs that we can look for that will tell us whether things are a little worse than simply a stressful day, or couple of days.

  • Has the feeling of your partner being down been ongoing for some time?

  • Have you noticed mood swings or anger outbursts?

  • Is your partner not sleeping as well as they used to?

  • Has your partner started to drink more heavily than usual, or begin to take illicit drugs in a conscious or unconscious attempt to self-medicate?

  • Are you noticing they are paying less attention to you or the family?

All these plus many others can be signs that your partner is struggling and needs help. This can be when things can become tricky, as approaching someone and suggesting that they may need to seek help can create a defensive response.

The first thing that you must understand is that you cannot force your partner to seek help. Should you encounter resistance, then do not pursue the conversation at that time.

Wait and try again when your partner is more approachable and be aware to broach the issue gently. The goal is to have your partner open up to you and identify that the help they so desperately need is available to them. When approaching keep in mind that there is a part of the brain called the amygdala, located deep within the brain. It is the part of the brain that picks up threat signals such as dangerous words, phrases, voices etc. For many with mental health issues this can be activated easily so these tips may assist in having this important conversation with the people you love.

  • Be selective on the words and phrases you use, keep your approach positive using a gentle voice, kind words, a smile or an expression of appreciation to keep stress levels at a minimum.

  • Approach the topic carefully, from a point of real concern. Let them know that you want them to seek help and that this is something you will tackle together.

  • Seek out a counsellor together, someone you are both comfortable with and go together to the sessions to discover the cause and if your partner would rather go alone respect that choice for themselves.

  • Create a supportive environment that provides your partner with the opportunity to heal.

More and more I am seeing people beginning to understand that the issue of mental health is common and can happen to any of us. If you find your partner does not want to attend therapy it is important to get support yourself. Quite often when one has a mental health issue that goes unaddressed and it can affect their partner deeply which can lead to further problems.

As the stigma begins to disappear, my hope is that people seek help as soon as possible and that those close to them remember to provide a loving and supporting environment.

Yes, you can get through this together by having each other’s backs and always being there for each other and once treatment is sought you will see an improvement in your relationship overtime.

Most important is that when you approach a Couple Therapist you ask them questions like:

  • Are you couple therapy trained and what is your training?

  • Are you qualified and trained in working with possible trauma or attachment related issues?

  • Do you have a clear understanding of how mental health issues affects a couple or family system?

  • Do you support individual therapy for one or both in the couple and how do you facilitate that?

Remember the most important thing to do is to seek help from a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist you are comfortable with and happy to sit with you as a either an individual or as a couple.

For more tips, daily quotes and information about love, dating, relationships and happiness visit my Facebook page Melissa Ferrari - Psychotherapist & Relationship Expert. Also available is information about couple therapy and how it can help your relationships.


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