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Marriage and Mental Illness

Loving Someone with Mental Illness

I recently had the honor of seeing the play, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical. It is an outstanding show and of course, tells the story of Carole King’s early song writing career. But the show also tells the story of the destruction of her marriage to her husband, Gerry Goffin. The two together made a brilliant song writing team and had many number one hits performed by some of the top artists of the time. However, during the show, there were hints that Gerry suffered from mental illness. According to her memoir, Carole talks about Gerry suffering from bipolar disorder (or manic depression as it was called then) following the ingestion of LSD. He eventually underwent treatment with lithium and electroshock therapy. During the play, his character talked about the highs and the lows he was experiencing and he certainly wasn’t happy despite his successful career. I can only imagine the stress his illness placed on their relationship. He was portrayed as having several affairs and he just couldn’t find the happiness he was looking for even though it was right in front of him.

So, if you are married to someone who is suffering from Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, or other mental disorders, how do you and your relationship survive the trying times? There are four things you can do.

1. Develop a crisis plan. Make sure everyone in the family knows what to do. Have a list of phone numbers available including doctors’ numbers, the name and address of the nearest hospital, and a list of current medications along with the dosages. Research actually shows that if a plan is put together when the person is well, crisis times become less frequent because the person with the illness knows that there are services in place and that there are people who are going to support him or her through whatever is going on. I suggest putting together that plan when your partner is well so he or she can have input as to what needs to be done.

2. Build a strong support system. Not only does the person with the illness need the support, so do the others living in the household. If you don’t have someone to talk to, go to counseling. Living with someone who is experiencing a mental illness, isn’t impossible, but at times, it can be challenging. You need to think of this illness as being exactly that - an illness. If your spouse was suffering from cancer, I have a hunch you would do what you can to help this person. Know that any crisis will pass.

3. Education yourself. You both need to know as much about the disorder as you can. Become an expert! The more you know, the more you will understand the behaviors you are seeing. It is also important that you both learn the symptoms of the disorder so you can spot any changes in behavior before they become serious. That way, often the doctor can be called, medication can be tweaked a bit and a trip to the hospital can be avoided. Obviously, if changes in behavior aren’t noticed early, it can eventually lead to hospitalization.

4. Take care of yourself. Eat a balanced, healthy diet without large quantities of sugar and caffeine. Exercise. Working out can help with stress. Establish healthy Loving Someone with Mental Illness relationships with family and friends. Go out to dinner or go see a movie with a friend. Engage in productive activities such as volunteering, working or finding a fun hobby. Learn how to relax. Practice stress management. Most importantly, it is important to have fun and enjoy life.

While these 4 steps won’t ensure that your family member will live a life without having a crisis. But they will ensure that when that crisis hits, you will know what to do and will be better equipped with how to endure those tough times.