Content warning: mental health, depression, suicide
To the significant other who has not struggled with mental illness,
Every relationship has its difficulties, but there is definitely an added stress when mental illness is involved. I want to start off by saying that you are very lucky and very blessed—you should be very grateful that you have not had to deal with a mental illness of your own. Secondly, it's important to acknowledge that you will never be able to fully understand what it is like to live with a mental illness if you have not personally experienced it.
While navigating my experience with mental illness and attempting to create meaningful relationships amidst my inner struggles, there have been times where I have felt completely misunderstood because... well, I was. After talking with others who struggle with their mental health, I realized that a lot of these thoughts that I was having and the ways that I was feeling was a fairly common thing.
Because you're not living through it, you won't be able to completely understand—but here's what you can do to try to get a better idea of what your partner is going through:
The first thing that anyone with mental illness wants from their partner is acceptance. The best thing that you can do when someone opens up to you is to accept them. Don't see mental illness as extra baggage that you have to carry, it's a part of them just like an arm or a leg is.
After accepting your partner for who they are, it is necessary that you recognize that everyone deals with their mental illness in different ways and everyone is affected uniquely by their illness. Even though you may have seen someone else be affected by their mental illness in a different way, that does not mean that the way either person reacts isn't legitimate.
Some people seek therapy for their mental illnesses and others take medicine, among a lot of other options. Support your significant other by encouraging them to get the help that they need. This could be taking them to their appointments or just letting them know that you will help them to do whatever is best for their mental health. Many people don't believe that medicine can assist with mental health, but think of it this way: you take medicine for a headache or for allergies, so how is that any different than taking it for a mental illness? If it's healthy and it helps, then that's what's important.
There are countless times where we who struggle with mental illness will sit here and say that we're okay, but sometimes we want you to remind us that we're OK too. We know that this doesn't seem like much, but on bad days, your love and reminder that things are okay and that we are okay can mean everything.
Also, if your partner breaks out into tears and they insist that they don't know what's wrong, there's a chance that they genuinely don't know what is upsetting them. So many times in life I have just completely lost it, tears streaming down my face uncontrollably and no real idea of what exactly is bothering me. Don't get angry at your partner for not knowing what's wrong, instead tell them that whatever it is will get better and that you want to try to help them get to the root of the problem if they want to talk about anything.
Whenever your partner tells you, "I'm doing the best I can," it isn't them making an excuse—it's honesty. Some days are a complete struggle, and it takes everything that they have in them to do the bare minimum. This can even include eating, showering, and basic everyday tasks that you don't even think twice about doing.
Similarly, it's not laziness when they are putting off their work and refusing to get out of bed. Sometimes it is completely mentally draining just thinking of getting out of bed, and when you say that they are being lazy or irresponsible, it does the opposite of help.
Always remember that wanting to be alone is not rejection. It's trying to collect ourselves and understand ourselves before we make you try to understand us. Mental illness can be a very complex and exhausting thing, and needing a few minutes or hours to recharge is not anything against you. (However, know your partner's warning signs and triggers and if they are distancing themselves to an unhealthy degree, seek help).
Everyone has downward spirals every once in a while. Know that even on their worst days, they are still themselves deep down. They still love you, even when they struggle to love themselves, so love them a little bit extra on those days. And I'm sure that they are sorry that they are not the same person they normally are, but they'll be back soon.
Sometimes your partner just needs someone to listen to them. Even if what they are saying is irrational and nonsense, just listen. Also, don't be annoyed when they want to talk about the same thoughts, fears, feelings, etc. multiple times. If talking about it helps, then you should be willing to listen.
Other times, they don't need someone to talk to—they just want you to hold them, be there for them, and know that you are here though even the worst down-spirals. You don't have to try to "fix" them, just simply love them.
Importantly, you need to always remember that what your partner is feeling is not your fault. Even if they may seem more emotionally "fragile" or "unstable" (which they by no means are), you are not to blame. You did not plant these little demons in their head, but sometimes you may help to awake them. However, do not think that his/her depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc. is your fault. No one is to blame.
Lastly, don't feel obligated to stay with them just because they have a mental illness. Yes, this can be a very very tricky and delicate situation that takes a lot of consideration, but you should not stay in a relationship because you feel responsible for an obligated to them. Breaking up is difficult in any relationship, and breaking up with someone who suffers from a mental illness is not necessarily much different from breaking up with someone else, aside from the fact that the way their disorder impacts them may be more strong after a breakup. While it is a very precarious situation, there are a lot of resources you can utilize to help you in finding the best way to end your relationship. This can include seeking out a counselor of your own, talking to their friends or family members, looking up tips and advice online, and many many more. It may seem like a very challenging feat, but I promise you that your partner wants what is best for you as well.
And remember, your partner knows that you will never be able to fully understand and that you can't do all of these things all of the time, but know that they appreciate every ounce of effort that you put into the relationship and into loving them despite their mental illness.
A girl who has felt all of these things.