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  • Writer's pictureTricia Pyatt, MA, LPC

Loving Someone Through Mental Illness

“For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in mental illness and health……”

Mental illness is no joke, ya’ll. It can be debilitating to live with anxiety, depression, and any other mental illness. But how often do we think about the people who love someone with anxiety or depression? Have you ever considered the affect mental illness has on one’s partner? It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch someone you care about suffer from mental illness. Most partners just want to fix it, yet they feel absolutely helpless. Often, they don’t really know what to do (or what NOT to do). So this blog will share some ideas of how you can love someone who is suffering from mental illness. (And for the record, “mental illness” refers to anything a mental health professional can diagnose using their DSM-5 – Anxiety, ADHD, Depression, Autism, BiPolar – anything that is psychological in nature.)

To-Do and Not-To-Do:

Don’t Say, “If you would just ____________, you would feel better”. People mean well – they just want to fix their loved one’s anxiety, depression, etc. But what they fail to recognize in doing so is that these issues go much deeper than any on-the-surface fix. Going to the gym won’t magically cure depression. Yes, it has been proven that some people find relief in their depression symptoms by engaging in regular physical activity. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and even if it did, that’s certainly not what your loved one wants to hear.

Instead, do show empathy. Empathy is simply meeting someone where they are, and not trying to fix it. It is listening and being there for them. It is sitting with them and saying, “I am so sorry you are struggling”. The thing about empathy is this: You don’t have to understand why they feel the way they do, and you don’t have to fix it. You just have to let them know they are not alone. *For a great video on empathy, click here.

Do ask your loved one how you can help.

Don’t force yourself on them and tell them what they need.

*For instance, don’t show up unannounced to take them out on the town. Instead, ask them what THEY would like to do. If someone is struggling with social anxiety, the last thing they want to do is get out of the house. And often, people with anxiety and depression feel overwhelmed and stressed if someone shows up to their house unannounced.

Don’t take it personally when your loved one doesn’t want to hang out.

Do understand that it is not about you – it is about them. And they are struggling right now. They are hurting. They are exhausted from fighting this battle that no one else can see or fight for them.

Don’t perceive your loved one as weak.

Do see them as the warrior they are. They are fighting this battle every hour of every day. Give them some grace and acknowledge how strong they are to continue to fight.

Lastly, do ask me if you have any questions on how you can best help your loved one. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Be the support system your loved one needs! Chances are, they could really use it!


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