Supporting A Partner with Mental Illness

This piece was written by Jo, a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council. Jo is 19 and a college student.  She is passionate about queer activism and mental health advocacy among youth.  In her spare time she likes to play guitar and read social justice essays.

Romantic partners of people with mental illness may not be sure how to deal with addressing mental health. They will want to be supportive of their partner, but aren’t sure how to do so.  Thankfully, there are some things you can try if you feel like your partner might be experiencing mental illness or mental health issues. 

You can respect your partner’s boundaries. Some people who struggle with mental health don’t want their romantic partners to be involved in that part of their life at all, preferring to take care of it by themselves, with a professional, or with other friends and family.  

You can also respect your partner’s choice of care. Sometimes people tend to think that if someone has a mental illness, they have to be seeing a therapist and/or be on medication to be healthy.  But people may prefer to take care of their mental health on their own, within a community of friends, or within their family.  Don’t try to push your partner into seeing a therapist or taking medication. While you can make suggestions or alert them to new and valuable resources, the choice to seek care, and the kind of care that will be, is ultimately their own. 

Out of respect for your partner, keep information about your partner’s mental health on a need-to-know basis. There may be particular people that your partner would prefer did not know about their struggles with their mental health.  Even if you are unsure of the exact reasoning for this, likely your partner has a reason that you should respect.

It might be a good idea to have a crisis plan in place. If your partner tells you that they have a part of their mental illness that could send them into a possible crisis (such as panic attacks, self-harm, suicidal ideation, psychotic episodes, etc.), make sure that you know what to do if such a situation arises.  You do not have to be their only form of support, or do anything you are uncomfortable doing for them. Find a plan that both of you are comfortable with, so if something happens, you know what to do.

Take the time to learn about what your partner is dealing with.  There is a lot of stigma and false information about mental illness out there.  Look at some reputable information about mental illness, and make sure that you aren’t believing myths about your partner’s mental illness, or using language that perpetuates stigma.

The most important part of any relationship is to communicate.  So if something is making you uncomfortable, say something, and make sure that your partner feels safe enough in your relationship to do the same.  Your partner should be able to feel that you can be supportive, and you should be able to give support you are comfortable giving and making sure that your partner isn’t solely dependent on you. Both of you should feel safe and comfortable within your relationship.

Need more information about young people’s rights to mental health and mental care? Check out the Mental Health section of our Youth Legal Guide. 

 

What Can You Do When Your Friend Struggles With Mental Health?

This piece was written by Kyle C., a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council

Before I started high school, I did not know anyone with a mental illness. In fact, I didn’t really understand what depression and anxiety were; my seventh grade health class did not cover mental health. A lot of changes took place in high school. The most prominent change I noticed among my peers was how many of them developed mental health problems. Now, going into my senior year of high school, several of my best friends and many other classmates have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

When my best friend first told me he was depressed, I wasn’t sure how to react. I tried not to act stunned, though it was hard. I told him I was there for him if he needed anything. From then on, I made an extra effort to try to make him happy. I would text him every day with funny animal pictures or embarrassing stories from my school day.

Despite my efforts and those of his therapist and doctor, he ended up in the hospital. He called me from the ER to talk to me about his suicide attempt and to tell me he was safe. Honestly, I don’t remember what I said to him because I was so shocked. I went to visit him in the hospital, bringing him friendship bracelets, books, and pictures of us when we were younger.

This was my first introduction to how scary mental illness could be. Later, when more of my peers turned to me for support with their depression, I was better prepared. I didn’t try to understand what they were going through, because I couldn’t. I didn’t push them to talk about their illness, but instead listened to them when they wanted to discuss it. I didn’t blame myself for the times when their depression got worse because I’d learned it was never anyone’s fault.

I don’t have a magical cure for my friends’ health issues. The best piece of advice I can give to other teens who have peers with similar issues is to act normal around your friends.  Being yourself is the best thing you can do to help your friends who are struggling.  Try to keep a positive outlook on life yourself to give your friends an optimistic atmosphere to help them recover. It’s crucial to have adults in your life that you trust to talk about the emotions you feel while your friends are struggling. Whether it be a teacher or parent, you must have someone you can confide in to express worry if you feel your friend is in danger.

Those scary, dark tweets posted by your friends are a cry for help: make sure you tell an adult and check on your friend.

If you have concerns about mental health or taking care of yourself, especially if you’re pregnant or parenting, you can learn more about resources available to you in our Mental Health section. If you ever feel scared that you or your friend might do something that could really harm them, get a trusted adult or call 911. 

What is mental health counseling?

Mental health counseling involves speaking with therapists (or counselors), who are people who are trained to listen to and help a person work through problems or questions he or she may have in life.  People choose to talk to a therapist for a lot of reasons.

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