Articles by Alex Ryder, Mental Health

Relationships and mental illness

Overlooking mental illness can put a real strain on your relationship.

The personal struggle for someone experiencing mental illness is now more widely acknowledged in our community. However, what is sometimes overlooked is
the strain the mental illness can put on a relationship.

When mental illness is present in a relationship it can be pervasive. It can affect social life, intimacy, sex, finances and everyday functioning of the
household. Add to this pervasiveness, the unknown of how to manage the illness, societal stigma, and sometimes denial on the part of the ill, and it
is little wonder that a relationship in which mental illness is present is much less likely to last.

There is only so much stress and strain a relationship can handle without help

When you add an external stressor like mental illness to a relationship, the dynamics of the relationship change. The extent to which mental health affects
a relationship depends on a great deal on how the person suffering ill-health deals with it. Acceptance and seeking help can save a relationship from a huge portion of the possible burden mental illness can bring to the relationship.

When mental illness goes unrecognised, ignored or avoided the relationship bears the full burden of the illness.

Then there are times when mental illness may not be recognised by the affected person. They might be ” flat’, ‘detached’ or ‘exhausted’ but not really aware that they are unwell. it is often during this period that the unwell partner will question the relationship and attempt to self-medicate through alcohol, drug use, or an affair in bid to simply feel happier not realising they are actually unwell. the unfortunate part of this is that, when well again, they report much higher levels of enjoyment in their relationship, but if they self-medicated during that period, damage to the relationship may have already been done.>

Mental illness may also be denied by the affected partner or kept within the relationship for numerous reasons including stigma of seeking help; or belief
by either partner that the unwell should just be able to ‘snap out of it’.  If mental illness is unrecognised, ignored or avoided it is often
the supporting partner who takes on responsibility for the relationship. They tend to commence an over-functioning role, trying to meet their own needs,
the needs of the partner and the needs of the relationship all the while tip toeing around the problem so as to not exacerbate things for their partner.
Over time a pattern of over-functioning / under-functioning can develop, leaving the well partner exhausted by the extra load they
are carrying and frustrated by the avoidance. This sometimes turns to guilt because they feel conflicted about the pain in the relationship, and where
the root of that lies.

Good news. We have some answers.

Many people live with depression for years only to one day finally seek therapy or go on the right medication, and say they feel like a heaviness or fog
has been lifted. They see the world differently – with new clarity and wonder. They also see their partner and their relationship with the same newness.
Often they say they wish they had sought help sooner, and did not realise that what they had been living with had been as bad as it was.


Here are some tips to help you deal with mental illness when it enters your relationship.

Have patience. Recovery may take time.

 Unburdening your relationship by seeking external help will relieve stress and strain in the relationship and help you to relate more lovingly
with your partner. Share the load and get your relationship back.

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