According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 26.2 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. While you personally may be fortunate to not meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis, there is a very good chance that one of your loved ones does. Here are six tips of what to do if your spouse is diagnosed with a mental illness.
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1. Show support and sympathy to your spouse. Receiving a mental illness diagnosis can be painful, embarrassing and even terrifying. There is so much uncertainty and stigma associated with mental illness that many sufferers worry that nobody could possibly love or want to be married to them. Letting your spouse know that you are there for and love him or her will go a long way to strengthening his or her resolve to seek out professional help and learning to manage the illness. Conversely, negative reactions from spouses can potentially cause mentally ill persons to experience increased symptoms and feelings of hopelessness.
2. Educate yourself. In general, most people are uninformed about mental illness. There are numerous myths about the origins and best treatments of different mental health disorders that can be very harmful to the sufferer if perpetuated. Often, persons will the best intentions of trying to help can do the most damage. Statements such as “you have so much you should be grateful for” or “you have to think positively” are not helpful and generally only cause guilt for those who are almost undoubtedly already feeling ashamed. Seek out quality literature about your spouse’s diagnosis and discover what things are helpful and what are not.
3. Do not become his or her therapist. As previously stated, it is important to educate yourself about your spouse’s illness. However, it is absolutely not your job to be his or her therapist. Doing so is not fair to you or to your spouse. Your job is to love your spouse, be sympathetic and aid in her or his recovery in appropriate fashion. Even if you are clinically trained to work with different mental illnesses, all fields that work with mental health issues strongly prohibit such intimate dual relationships. Remember your role and let the trained professionals do their jobs.