Your Partner is Struggling with Their Mental Health – Don't Forget About Yourself
Caring for your partner when they are struggling with their mental health can be immensely challenging
Hypnotherapist Emma Hewitt shares her own experience and advice for others
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As a hypnotherapist, my days are spent helping people with their mental health. It’s what I love to do, and I genuinely care about each and everyone of my clients. However, to be able to carry out my role as a therapist, I need to be able to detach myself from my clients after working with them. I need to be able to ‘switch off’. Otherwise, it would all just get too much.
But what happens if you can’t do that? What happens if you are helping a loved one? What do you do when it’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
I have been there myself and my own mental health was severely affected and, at times, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could do it. And that is something that many of us face.
Spotting the signs of mental distress
Chances are, you will spot the signs that your loved one is struggling with their mental health before they do, or at least before they acknowledge them, but what are the signs that you need to look out for?
A quick Google will bring up list after list of signs of mental illness – things like irritation, anger, changes in sleeping habits, excessive feelings of sadness, intense worrying, withdrawal, changes in sex drive and on and on it goes.
These days, I think most of us are aware of these ‘signs’, but when it comes to someone that we are close with, the sign can sometimes just be a feeling. I think it is important for us to always trust these feelings – in all areas of life. Our subconscious is constantly taking in everything around us, when we get these ‘feelings’ I believe it is our subconscious picking up on things that might not yet be at a point that is ‘visually’ apparent.
However, in whatever way you receive these signs, they’re there and if they are there, our natural reaction is to do something about it. To find a solution. To fix the problem.
A painful and difficult fact in all of this is – we are not the ones that can fix this. Only they can.
But what we can do is support them in helping themselves.
When to get help?
It may be that with your support and open communication, they are able to work through their current situation without receiving outside help, but quite often, they are going to need more than you can offer.
If that’s the case, that’s okay. It is not your job to fix them. Your only job is to love them and to support them.
Yet, it may be that they don’t feel like they need help, want help or in some cases, that they deserve help.
This lack of motivation to help themselves can be incredibly frustrating and it’s very easy to begin to blame them for their own situation.
There are so many ways to get help, why aren’t they doing it?
Well, this is a common aspect of mental illness.
It may be that they genuinely do not believe that they are ill, or it may be that, despite the recent growth in awareness, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health and that makes them feel a sense of shame.
There is no one answer here. And there is no easy way to persuade them to get help if they do not want it. I would always recommend being honest with them. They may not like what they hear, but if you are noticing a change in their behaviour and if that change is having a negative effect on you and others around them, I think it’s important to say so.
If, through open communication you can help them to understand that they can be and deserve to be helped then that is wonderful. At that point a trip to the GP is often the first port of call. A good tip here is, before the appointment, you can together, write down the things that have been happening and how they are feeling. You could even go with them and read it out if that’s what they wanted.
I’ve had to go to my GP quite a few times regarding my own mental health and it can be hard to speak openly about how you’re feeling. Writing it down beforehand, can really help.
But what if they don’t want that help?
I am often contacted by partners and family members asking me to work with their loved one, my answer is always ‘of course, but they need to be the one to want that help’.
There are, of course, certain circumstances where I would advise contacting someone on their behalf. If you feel they or those around them, including yourself, may be at risk, then you need to contact someone. I understand how hard that can be, I understand that you don’t want to make someone angry or upset by going behind their back, but there are times when you really do need to put that to the side.
Risking their anger is better than risking their life.
And if you don’t feel they’re a risk?
Well, sometimes we must accept that for some people, for many different reasons and no fault of their own, they must hit rock bottom before they are able to begin their journey back, and that’s hard to watch.
You matter too
When we love someone, it is so easy to put our own wellbeing to the back of our minds, to dismiss our own feelings, to ignore the fact that we too need help.
From an early age, it is drummed into us that to be a truly good person, we should put others before ourselves. And so that is what we do, often without question.
How often have you heard the analogy of the airplane oxygen masks? Yes, it gets used a lot, but that’s because it clearly demonstrates an important point. You can’t help anyone, unless you first help yourself.
I recently had to take some time away from someone that I care about. It wasn’t an easy decision and I felt guilty and scared of what might happen without me there. But it was something I had to do. It gave me time to gather my thoughts, to rest, to openly have a good cry without worrying about it affecting them and making them feel even worse about themselves.
Now, I feel like I can be there for them once again. To support them.
If, at some point in the future, I need to again take a break, then I will. And hopefully I will get to a point where I can do that without the guilt!
For some, it may be that from taking a break, they realise that they can’t do it anymore. And if that’s how you feel, that really is okay.
You must make the decision based on what is best for you.
A final word from my mum
Growing up my mum would constantly say to me –
“Emma, it’s not your job to save everyone” and I would get angry and reply with “but I’ve got to try!”
Finally, after many years of trying, after many years of caring about everyone else before myself and making myself ill in the process, I accept that she is right (just please don’t tell her).
I can’t save everyone, but I can save myself. And in saving myself, I am now here to support others whilst they try do the same.