Someone who is grappling with mental health challenges is suffering, often in ways we can’t see. But someone else is also suffering because of those challenges, and it’s something we don’t always notice.
The spouses of people with mental health concerns also feel strong impacts. The symptoms and elements of their partners’ conditions often spill over into their lives.
It may be the last-minute call to explain to your relatives that you can’t come to the family party because Bill isn’t “feeling well” again. It could be the helpless feeling as you watch the person you love melt down because of something simple. Or the sleep you lose as you helped your spouse recover from a 2 a.m. panic attack.
Any kind of caregiving involves a certain amount of stress for the caregiver. For example, sick kids can mean sleepless nights. A spouse’s surgery might mean weeks of extra housework on the other’s part. Those are normal parts of relationships, and most couple adjust to them automatically.
When it comes to mental health, it isn’t always that automatic. If your spouse has a stomach bug, that’s pretty obvious. But things like depression and anxiety — well, they’re not always so easy to see. What you perceive as your husband’s gloomy mood might actually be a sign of serious depression. Your wife’s panic attacks may be the warning that she is dealing with severe anxiety.
There’s a social aspect, too. Even though you may understand that your husband is depressed, other family members or neighbors may be unaware of what that means, and it can be awkward or embarrassing. If he had cancer, those same family members and neighbors would be rushing over to provide meals … but few people step up to support those with mental health issues.
The sheer exhaustion of helping someone with something like depression or anxiety can lead to resentment. You love your wife, but can’t she just act happy for once? Can’t Bill just come to one family party without making a production of it?
Being the caregiver for someone with depression or anxiety is difficult, confusing, frustrating, and exhausting. Protect your own health by doing three things. First, share your feelings with someone who will listen and understand. Second, learn about the realities of the condition affecting your loved one. Finally, learn strategies you can use to better serve his or her needs and cope with your own feelings.
Our team of professional counselors not only works with people facing mental health challenges — we help their loved ones understand and cope with what’s happening. If being a caregiver is starting to overwhelm you or make you feel resentful, why not take time to talk with one of our professionals? And don’t think of it as selfish. Protecting your own well-being may be the best thing you can do for your spouse.
John Money is a pastor and counselor who has helped couples, families, teens, and other individuals seeking emotional and spiritual healing.