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.