Being the partner watching from the sidelines can leave you feeling extremely helpless and afraid.
I have never been the girl whose partner has suffered with their mental health. That has always been my husbands’ job. But the support and care given to me by him even when I felt I didn’t need it or didn’t deserve it was what got me through the tough days.
Sometimes all I needed was to know that I wasn’t alone. That I had somebody that was going to be with me every step of the way. I needed somebody just to be there, no matter what. Even the confirmation over and over that they are not going anywhere is enough. Mental health can be overwhelmingly isolating, debilitating and lonely, at times.
Being the partner watching from the sidelines can leaving you feeling extremely helpless and afraid. You might feel confused, frustrated and even overwhelmed. Every time you try to help your efforts are ignored or rejected and you don’t know what else there is to do. You may even blame yourself or worry that you have caused your partner to feel this way. But you can be sure you haven’t, you can also be sure you’re not alone.
Although you will not be able to “cure” your partner's mental health illness, be it anxiety or even depression, you can help them every step along the road to recovery. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
1. Learn about mental health
Information is power. The more you know, the more you can help your partner and yourself. People will mental health illness can typically have a few good days in a row only to experience a low once again after. This is an aspect that some people don’t understand but being prepared and understand it comes in waves can be helpful in getting you both through it.
An important first step in helping your partner is trying to understand their illness. Whichever mental health illness they suffer from, try to get as much information as possible about it. But, without a doubt, the best way to see how your partner is feeling and to try and understand and support what they are going through is to ask them. Sounds simple but this makes a massive difference. Ask them open-ended questions and use empathic listening.
2. Simply be there
You might think your partner needs to find a group in your area for people to talk to. Or that they need people that also suffer from a mental illness to talk to so that they can relate. But really all they need is you. You won’t have all the answers and that’s okay. But what you can do is listen. Having somebody there to listen is invaluable. You can show them some physical affection, a hug, a handhold or rub their hand when they’re talking. Listen, to every word. Don’t try and “fix” it. You can respond with phrases like:
- “What can I do to help?”
- “We will get through this together”
- “I am here for you and will always be here for you”
- “You are not alone”
3. Encourage treatment
With all the enthusiasm in the world you are not a professional and you can only do so much. Mental health illnesses seldom improve without treatment. The best help you can give your partner is by encouraging them to seek treatment. You could also help by going along to any of their appointments.
Often people suffering will not think they need treatment, or some may be in denial of a problem in the first place. You could help them see it from an outsider’s point of view by doing the following.
4. Express your concern
- Share with them the symptoms you have noticed them experiencing.
- Reassure them of your willingness to help and be there. Booking and attending all their appointments.
- Talk through some treatment options. These could include psychotherapy, medication or some lifestyle changes.
Remember to look after yourself along this journey. It will be difficult for you too. Set some small goals and take everything day by day. Some days will be more difficult than others. With the right treatment in place, you and your partner will get through this.
Laura Doyle, mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.