Loving and Supporting a Significant Other with Mental Illness

Here we are in the month of February, a.k.a. the month of love!

Couples devote extra time and attention to each other through giving gifts, going out somewhere special, and spending quality time with one another, particularly on Valentine’s Day. However, having a partner with a mental illness, or being that partner, requires love in a way that can look very different from chocolates and teddy bears on one set day.   

As an individual living with depression and a form of OCD called trichotillomania, I know what it’s like to have really hard mental health days. There are times when I can’t get out of bed because my dark thoughts pull me to it and don’t let me leave, or times when I pull out all of my eyelashes and my self-esteem plummets, often also leading to dark thoughts. Times like these can be insufferable, but with support from my significant other, by and large, they are made bearable.

For someone with mental illness, love and support can mean simply sitting next to them in silence, or laying with them in bed during a hard time. It can be making them food if you know they are struggling to eat regularly on their own, or making sure they are brushing their teeth and showering. It can also be a quiet “I love you,” “you’re amazing!” or “I’m proud of you”. On harder days, it can be holding them while they weep or break down in panic. Love and support can also be everyday care, like making them lunch or taking care of some of their errands.

Yet, even when my partner makes it clear through his words and actions that he cares about me, my mental illness makes me worry that one day, he’s going to realize that me and my conditions are too much to handle, or that he’s giving more than he is getting, and decide to leave me. My thoughts tell me that I am not “normal,” my brain is not “normal,” so I am constantly questioning whether my partner deserves someone who doesn’t require so much “work”.

But I have to remind myself that although my mental illness requires certain care and treatment, it does not define me. I am still worthy of love. I am a kind, loving, goofy person who is able to show extra compassion and grace to my partner when he’s having a bad day, because I know what it’s like to really be low. I take extreme care to know he’s loved and that I am there for him, because I know he is always there for me. Relationships are a two-way street, and mental illness does not put a road block in one or both lanes- just be sure to continue reaching over to the other side.

If you are seeking additional support, please do not hesitate to reach out to the NAMI Wisconsin at (608) 268-6000. 

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern