Living With Someone Who Has Mental Illness

Living with someone who has mental illness is hard. I’ve done it, so I know. And I’ll be the first to admit that I know it was hard on my ex-husband during the worst of my depression. I asked him if he’d be willing to share some of what he learned in the hopes it may help others who are struggling with a loved one who has mental illness. Here are his thoughts:

I wanted to talk really briefly about what little I learned in living with a chronically depressed person. First, I wanted to say that I was totally unprepared for the huge challenge this brought to my life. I had no personal experience and no people around me who were experienced either. I was the last person in the world that should have been trying to shoulder this challenge.

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The first thing that I really regret was never getting real help. There are a few reasons. For one, I was naive about it. Another reason is that I think people, in general, downplay issues like this, so I did too. Also, it seems like people, in general, think that this is a solvable problem. I now know that I and my ex-wife both needed help. I needed help with ways to cope with it as well as ways to help with it. However, what I needed the most was to know how not to make it worse.

Let me list a couple of the ways that I made things worse: Listening to the advice of others was a very harmful thing that I did. Advice expressed in casual conversation is very common. I took it and tried to force the ideas on my poor ex-wife. This seems so foolish to me now. How could anyone advise something that they have had no opportunity to understand? I took the advice out of desperation, but it was a terrible mistake. If I could go back in time I would only be guided by conversation with my ex-wife herself.

Last I wanted to mention the biggest mistake that I made—letting people gang up and pressure my ex-wife for help. Because depression is so easily identified it puts a target on people’s back. Once people see this target they all try to help. Word spreads as more and more people want to join in. However, this group against one struggle is not good. It leaves the depressed person feeling like there is no privacy and no safety. They feel exposed in a way that is painful for them. If I could go back in time I would tell few people. Ideally only people trusted by my ex-wife herself should have been told.

The one thing that is apparent now is that I never consulted my ex-wife about who could help or who they wanted to help. It seems so obvious that this is what I should have done. Instead I had some sort of manic reaction where I wanted everyone I saw to help. That is one of the reasons why I wanted to write about this. It would be ideal if people could have ways to learn how to deal with this. I didn’t find any, but I hope that they either are out there or coming soon. People really need it.

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