How Does Mental Illness Really Affect Close and Personal Relationships?

How Does Mental Illness Affects Relationships?

Relationships are a mystery, whether you’re a sibling, parent, spouse, partner, or child. We have our good times and not-so-good times. We fight and then move on. We love or hate them. And we can live with or without them. But what happens if your loved one’s mental illness is tearing your relationship apart? Or you don’t know how to cope with it, with them, or with their situation? Yet, you love them so much and don’t want to lose them. So, what do you do then? Let’s discuss this topic further and the different family dynamics.

When Your Parent Has Mental Health Issues

Children rely on a solid and stable foundation to grow securely. However, if one or both parents have an untreated mental health condition, it can have disastrous results for the child. In other words, witnessing a mentally unwell parent can be traumatizing. For example, because children don’t have the reasoning we do as adults, they won’t understand why their parents can’t get out of bed, feed them, or leave the house. 

We all have a different chemical makeup, so each person’s mental health symptoms will manifest differently. For instance, one parent might have extreme anxiety that they’re always on edge and screaming. Another might be severely depressed that they can’t stop crying and want their child to care for them. And another might experience paranoid delusions, thinking everyone’s out to get their family. Because children’s brains are constantly developing, witnessing these events can be terrifying and leave them stunted.

Child Therapy

A child fortunate to have therapy will likely need a lot of trauma work. They need to understand that what happened was not their fault, as children often think their parent’s issues are their doing. One such method used for children between the ages of 3-12 years old is play therapy. 

Play therapy is a form of therapy that is effective in treating children through mental and emotional issues. It is especially beneficial for children who have been abused or traumatised to help them gain a sense of normality back in their lives. 

Playing is how children express themselves and navigate the world. So, you will likely get a clue of their underlying psychological issues during a play therapy session. For example, suppose a therapist uses dolls during one of their interventions with a child who has witnessed violence. In that case, the child may begin to enact a violent scene with the dolls. 

Some may question play therapy as silly. However, children can’t express themselves as adults. So, play therapy can be quite beneficial. Although, some older children might prefer talk therapy over play therapy. Therefore, it all depends on the individual and their specific circumstances.

An important note. For a child to significantly improve, the parents must also be in therapy. Otherwise, if the child shifts for the better, but the family stays stagnant, that child will only regress. 

When Your Child Has Mental Health Issues

Raising children takes work. Still, it is even more difficult for any parent to witness their child struggling psychologically. They often feel useless, helpless, and guilty. They ask themselves where they went wrong or what they could have done better as a parent. But blaming oneself will never resolve the situation. It will only cause them to feel worse about themselves. 

It is true that if a child grows up in an unhealthy home environment or has a family history of mental illness, they are at a greater risk. Still, getting them the help they need is never too late. 

The most important thing to know as a parent is that you can’t do it alone. And that’s okay. You are human. Witnessing your child struggling with mental health issues is too close to home. Therefore, seeking a therapist for your child and family counselling would be very beneficial. 

Individual and Family Therapy

Like anyone, children deserve an individual therapist to feel safe to disclose their situation. Although, as a parent, you still have legal rights to their information until they are 18 years old. However, a child might be less willing to share upon that knowledge.

At the same time, not every child will want to share or even see a therapist. So, family therapy could be beneficial for them to know they are supported and that you are all on the same page. Parents might also consider couples therapy if the situation is taking a toll on their relationship. 

Finally, if your child is a harm to themselves or others, you can contact emergency services for them to come to the home to assess them. They may have to go into an inpatient facility if necessary. There are also partial hospitalization programs that offer structured day support group classes as a step before or down from an inpatient facility. These programs teach coping skills, mindfulness, and managing life more effectively.

When Your Spouse or Partner Has Mental Health Issues

Not many spouses-to-be think of mental health when hearing the vows “in sickness and health.” Or for that matter, many couples might not even consider their partner becoming mentally ill. You might think to yourself that you never signed up for this. However, mental illness is so widespread that, sadly, anyone can suffer from it.

Living with a spouse or partner with mental health issues can be difficult and trying, especially if you have to take on more than your share and if you have children. That is enough to build feelings of resentment and possibly create hostility. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek therapy.

Individual and Couples Therapy

If you’re struggling with mental illness, and it’s affecting your relationship, the first step is to seek individual therapy. Even if you want couples counselling, individual therapy is necessary. Otherwise, you may address the issues you and your partner are experiencing. Still, it would be best to do some inner work to have a stable relationship. For example, if you’re depressed due to low self-esteem, it’s not something your partner can fix. Whereas a therapist would want to get to the person’s root core of their issues, which begins with you. 

Of course, couples therapy can be beneficial. It allows them a safe space to address the issues at hand. More than likely, it is a difficult situation for both of them. Therefore, each person needs to feel supported and have someone who will be a mediator. 

Support Is Out There 

Fortunately, there are a variety of support groups nowadays. They have support groups for parents of children with mental health issues, children of parents, or couples. These groups can help you cope with your feelings and your loved one’s condition’s effect on you. You can also gain insight from others who are experiencing similar things. Plus, it could be a reprieve knowing you have something you can call your own and have time to replenish.

If you are looking just for a general support group, one such place is Barty’s Adventures, where they hold special events and adventures to help men feel better about themselves by keeping active, thus improving mental health. Barty – We Are A Mental Health Initiative

You Are Not Alone 

It can feel very lonesome when your loved one has a mental illness. It was something you never expected or wished for. But it’s important to know that mental illness is not their fault, just as multiple sclerosis wouldn’t be. In comparison, you must take care of yourself and step back whenever needed to prevent burnout. That’s why it’s vital to seek help and not go it alone.

Seeking help doesn’t make you weak. It just means you need assistance, and that’s okay. So, don’t wait until things become unmanageable. If anything, it could be the best thing you do for yourself and your loved one. 

Why Not Try Online Therapy?

Hopefully, these points could give some comfort, but sometimes just reading quotes isn’t enough. Online therapy can be a great option if you or a loved one is looking for more support.

Therapy through can be more affordable than traditional therapy and allows many options to communicate with your therapist from the comfort of your home. Most importantly, remember that it is okay not to be okay, and you are no less of a human for feeling your emotions and being vulnerable.

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Feel free to drop by if you’d like to chat and just say, ‘Hey Barty,’ in strict confidence, and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or do not hesitate to leave a comment below.

Sandy Glover

Sandy is the resident mental health professional at Barty. She previously worked as a therapist, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in counselling. Sandy has transitioned to becoming a peer presenter at several mental health settings through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Her passion for mental health is evident in her writing as a subject matter expert who draws from personal experience, professional expertise, and education to help eliminate stigma.

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