Let’s face it, no matter how much we love our loved ones, mental health difficulties can be rough on relationships. No matter how much our loved ones love us, it’s not easy for them coping with us sometimes. Loving someone, or just respecting someone and being compassionate toward them doesn’t mean you are immune to the challenges that can present when you are either caring for and/or involved in a romantic relationship with a sufferer.
This page will hopefully achieve two different objectives. One is discussing strategies to try and cope and respond to a loved one who is suffering from mental health difficulties, and the other is to acknowledge some of the broader problems faced by carers or partners of mental health sufferers outside of their own relationship with the sufferer.
MANAGING YOUR RELATIONSHIP
This is where it can get tricky. There are often no real ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Relationships can be complex things. Mental health can be a complex thing. Put the two together and… well you probably get the picture!
However, this complexity can also bring people together, with relationships becoming profoundly deep and meaningful encompassing all our strengths, but also all our vulnerabilities.
Most people will have a ‘line’ and once that line gets crossed, or that boundary consistently breached, cracks in the relationship can appear.
Many sufferers (perhaps not all, depending on severity of illness at the time and the specific situation) will need to accept some degree of accountability for their actions and behaviours, regardless of their mental health problems. However, in the heat of the moment, either/or both partners can say things that don’t help, that make things worse.
Many sufferers will be criticised for ‘faults’ they themselves wish they didn’t have and in areas of their life they are only too well aware are not going well. The erosion of confidence, self-belief and the inability to ‘perform’ is a daily battle for many people with mental health difficulties.
Many sufferers have to deal with a range of conflicting beliefs and behaviours due to their mental health difficulties.
Sufferers who want to meet their partner’s friends in the bar on Friday night but fight a daily battle with social anxiety.
Sufferers who want to take that holiday to Ibiza their partner wants to go on but are petrified at the thought of having a panic attack on the plane.
Sufferers desperate to support their partners and children at things like ‘after school’ events, but whose agoraphobia makes it a Battle royal even getting out of the car once at the school car park.
Loving someone, or just respecting someone and being compassionate toward them doesn’t mean you are immune to the challenges that can present when you are either caring for and/or involved in a romantic relationship with a sufferer.
CARERS, OFTEN UNSUPPORTED, OFTEN SUFFERING THEMSELVES AS A RESULT OF THEIR CARING ROLE
The fact is, carers are more prone to mental health problems than the general population. Especially depression. This is consistently reflected in the research. Many people don’t even consider themselves a ‘carer’. They might tell themselves, “he’s my husband, of course I’m going to help him”, or “he’s my child, I’m a mother, not a carer”. Yes, we are husbands, wives, and parents. However, sometimes it can be useful to consider whether or not you would class yourself as a carer too. This can take on extra significance if you feel, in anyway, your role as a carer/wife/husband/parent is having a detrimental effect on your own wellbeing.
If you struggle sometimes (or often, or even all the time) supporting someone else with their mental health difficulties, this does not mean you are weak. It does not mean you are selfish. It does not mean you are somehow ‘disloyal’ to your partner, family or friend. It simply means you are human.
For a long time now, the needs of the carer were seen as insignificant in relation to the needs of the person needing care or support. Things are slowly changing. Carers support groups are leading the charge in changing Government policy. There are also many new ‘best practice’ guidelines to promote the needs of carers.
Ultimately, the better supported and looked after carers are, the better overall care and support the cared for will receive.
The motto Anxiety United rightly promote of ‘you are not alone’ is very relevant to carers as well as to mental health sufferers.
RESOURCES FOR CARERS, PARTNERS & FAMILY
The Care Act 2014 (applies to carers, gives carers more support)
Carers UK – 0808 808 7777