Many couples will find themselves facing a mental health crisis at some point in their relationship. It may be temporary, or require long-term treatment and care…
Mental health and relationships is an important topic to explore. Dealing with the issue in the public spotlight is even more difficult. Kim Kardashian West and her husband, Kanye West have been making headlines recently after Kanye’s Twitter outbursts. The rapper and entrepreneur accused Kim of trying to have him ‘locked up’ in a bizarre public rant last week. He also implied that she had been unfaithful to him.
After the outburst, Kim took to Instagram to share a plea with her 181 million followers to afford the couple some compassion and show a little grace towards her husband who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“Anyone who has this, or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand,” Kim said. “I feel like I should comment because of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health. Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behaviour know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor.”
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “bipolar disorder is a mental health condition marked by intense mood changes. People with the illness switch back and forth from mania or hypomania (an emotional state of being energetic and gleeful or sometimes aggressive or delusional) to having episodes of depression.”
Public dialogue around mental health
The UK’s Prince William and his brother Prince Harry have made a conscious effort to speak out about mental health issues over the past few years in an effort to decrease the stigma around them.
While difficult for the family, Kim and Kanye’s journey has also helped ignite the conversation. All4Women explored how couples could deal with a mental health crisis in their relationship.
Nearly half of all adults struggle with mental health in their lifetime
According to the CDC, nearly half of adults experience a mental illness at least once in their lifetime. Many couples will have to support each other through a crisis of mental health in their relationship.
What types of mental health issues could couples encounter?
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (in South Africa, this could be after a traumatic event such as a hijacking or home invasion)
- Bi-polar disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Generalised anxiety disorder
A survey by PsychGuides.com (an American addiction centres resource), revealed that 64% of respondents reported having some type of mental disorder. “Anxiety and depression were the most common issues among respondents, together comprising over 44% of disorders.” It is clear that many couples will therefore struggle with mental health in their relationships.
According to Psychology Today, a person who has a mental health disorder may feel a lot of shame or guilt due to the public stigma. They may try to hide it from their partner, and fail to seek help when needed.
The partner may be confused or frustrated by their ‘strange’ behaviour without understanding the underlying cause. This ‘conflict’ could lead to intimacy issues, and a breakdown of trust between the partners.
For those suffering from major depression, it might be difficult enough to just get out of bed in the morning. They may ‘drop the ball’ when it comes to other family commitments and their partner may feel resentful towards them. It is only with proper diagnosis and support that they can be equipped to handle the situation.
How Kim’s reaction will help ground their relationship:
In the case of Kanye West, he lashed out against his wife, and hurled ‘unfounded’ accusations at her. He apologised for his behaviour a few days later, and acknowledged how he had hurt her.
“I would like to apologize to my wife Kim for going public with something that was a private matter. I did not cover her like she has covered me. To Kim I want to say I know I hurt you. Please forgive me. Thank you for always being there for me. (sic)”
Kim responded to Kanye’s outburst in a very loving and supportive manner. In her appeal to the public to give the couple grace, she was careful not to condemn or shame him for his tweets. This is key for the ‘caring’ partner when it comes to dealing with mental health in a relationship.
How you and your partner can cope with mental illness in your relationship:
1. What can you do if you suspect your partner may be suffering from a mental health issue?
“One has to tread gently and carefully with this,” says Michael Kallenbach a couples therapist with consulting rooms in Parkhurst, Johannesburg. “Perhaps enlist another member of the family to help raise this with empathy and sensitivity. Try to plan ahead. Do your research into various professionals available, so that you can offer the name and telephone number of someone who would be able to help your partner. Also, come along to the first appointment if that is ok with your partner.”
2. Honesty and openness is key when it comes to mental health and relationships
In the PsychGuides.com survey, only 50% of male respondents said that their partner knew that they were on medication for a mental illness. 72% of women disclosed their medication to their partners.
“It is very important to disclose your diagnosis,” says Kallenbach. “However, it’s often hard for the other person in the relationship to fully understand what’s going on and to meet the expectations of the person who is suffering so badly.” This is why it’s important to seek help.
On the other hand, disclosing your mental health issue with your partner allows them to support you in a more practical way. It will help give your partner the tools to understand your behaviour, and deal with it in a more caring, helpful manner.
3. Seek HELP, attend couple’s counselling
Couples should attend some sessions of counselling together so that a mental health professional can help them identify ways in which they can support each other, and how best to handle certain situations.
If the mental health condition hasn’t yet been identified, seeking help will ensure that the proper diagnosis is given, and the couple can pursue treatment options.
It’s also important for a counsellor to empower the ‘caring’ partner with coping skills. “Sometimes it’s difficult to be a carer, says Kallenbach.
4. Both partners should be involved in the treatment
The treatment or care of the mental illness should not rest entirely on the shoulders of the person who is suffering from it. Both partners should be involved in ensuring the best care and support is given.
With the right tools, support, and knowledge, it is possible for couples to have a loving, supportive, successful and empowering relationship and cope with a mental health issue at the same time.