Living With Someone With a Mental Illness

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Experiencing a mental illness, also known as a mental health disorder, may be very hard on a marriage or any relationship.

The stress may reach a crisis level and you may fall into a pattern where managing the mental health disorder becomes a role around which the relationship is centered. Mental illness does not have to degrade a marriage or partnership, even with the stress it may bring.

In spite of the challenges, there are ways to maintain a healthy relationship when your partner has a mental health disorder. If you're in a relationship with someone who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, give these tips a try.

How Mental Illness Affects Relationships

If someone you're living with is diagnosed with a mental illness, they may be hesitant to tell you. Maybe they worry that you will stop living with them or end the relationship once you find out. You both may wonder whether you'll be able to navigate their symptoms together.

Communication is always important in a relationship, but especially so when someone in your life has mental health concerns. You trust them to stay on top of their treatment plan. You may become stressed if they can't fulfill their role such as paying rent or keeping a tidy living space.

It can be frustrating if their symptoms become unmanageable; for instance, you might have to take on more responsibilities when they aren't able to.

If your partner's mental health condition prevents them from holding a steady job, it can be stressful, especially if you are financially dependent on them. You may need to make other plans, such as getting a job yourself to contribute.

If you are parenting together, you and your partner will need to find a way to explain to your children their parent's condition. If your partner is prone to erratic behavior, it will likely upset your children. You'll need to find ways to cope as a family.

You and your loved one may experience emotional exhaustion as you manage the day-to-day of living with mental illness. It's extra important that you prioritize self-care so that you don't burn out.

You may experience challenges with intimacy as well. Depending on the type of mental illness your partner has and the medications they take, they may experience hypersexual behaviors—strong sexual urges—or they may not be interested in sex at all. These behaviors can usually be managed by making a plan with their doctor.

Learn About Living With Mental Illness

Some people may be uninformed about certain mental health disorders, or may rely on inaccurate information. There is a lot of misinformation about the causes and best treatment options for different mental health disorders. To understand your partner's condition:

  • Seek out information about the particular diagnosis from credible sources.
  • Find out more about treatments including psychotherapy and medication.
  • Check out mental health organizations for more information.
  • Learn about the symptoms of mental health disorders.

Signs of Mental Illness

Depending on the individual's age, symptoms of a mental health disorder may present differently. Some signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder may include:

  • Changes in appetite and/or sleeping patterns
  • Experiencing extreme emotional shifts
  • Chronic low-grade depression and/or a major depressive episode
  • Increased irritability, sadness, anxiety, anger, and/or worries
  • Expressing thoughts related to self-harm or harming others
  • Experiencing hallucinations and/or delusions
  • Increased unhealthy coping habits (drug and alcohol use, or engaging in other risky or obsessive behaviors)
  • Having emotional outbursts that aren't typical for the specific individual
  • Withdrawing and not engaging in activities that once brought joy

Show Support

When someone has been newly diagnosed, this news may be devastating, embarrassing, and maybe even frightening for them.

However, for some, having a diagnosis may provide validation for the symptoms they have been experiencing. But the uncertainty and stigma associated with mental health disorders may cause them to worry that you will see them differently.

Whether it's your partner, your child, a friend, or a roommate that has been diagnosed, there are ways to show that you support them.

But remember to respect their privacy, too. Though you may be curious about their therapy sessions and their progress, they might only want to share certain things with you and keep other details private.

Always remove yourself from potentially emotionally and/or physically dangerous situations and contact emergency services if they are at risk for harming themselves or others.

For Your Partner

Let your partner know that you are there for them and love them. To show your partner support, listen to their experience and validate what they are feeling. Ask your partner how you can best support them, and listen to what they share with you.

Build your own support system—this can be trusted friends, family members, or maybe even a support group—that you can lean on as you navigate your partner's mental illness.

In addition, acknowledge the positive shifts or changes your partner has made. Let them know that you appreciate them taking care of themselves.

For Your Child

Make sure to listen to your child when they talk about their symptoms. You might not understand exactly what they're going through, but it's important they know that you believe them.

Do not pressure yourself to resolve everything. Communicating with your child and their doctor is key, so you can come up with solutions together. If you have other children, you might want to get them in on the conversation, too. Find ways you can all support your child's mental health condition.

For Your Friend or Roommate

If you live with a close friend who has a mental illness, you might notice a change in their behavior from time to time. Maybe they are withdrawing from social activities.

Ask your friend how you can help. If it feels necessary, you can ask if they'd like for you to contact a mental healthcare service for them.

If you have a roommate that you aren't close with, you can still offer your support where you can. In any case, you want to remember to respect their boundaries and your own. Don't interfere if it doesn't feel safe.

Don't Become Their Therapist

Beyond educating yourself on how to support your loved one, keep in mind that it is not your responsibility to be their therapist. This is inappropriate, even if you are a trained mental health professional, because it creates an unhealthy power dynamic between the two of you that will not work as a long-term solution.

Set Boundaries

Your role is to provide love, support, and empathy for your partner, child, or friend during their recovery efforts.

Your loved one is responsible for managing the symptoms of their mental health disorder. This offers them the opportunity to feel empowered to care for themselves and prioritize their well-being as an individual.

You should avoid enabling unhealthy behaviors and allow them to take responsibility for their own treatment plan, while still offering appropriate support.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is critical in maintaining healthy relationships and can be especially beneficial if someone close to you has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Ideas for self-care include:

  • Practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Make sure you get some regular physical activity.
  • Nourish your body.
  • Spend time with trusted friends and loved ones.
  • Engage in activities or hobbies that you enjoy.
  • Journal about your thoughts and feelings.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation.
  • Stay connected to your body through progressive muscle relaxation, especially during times of stress.

Be mindful if you begin to notice signs of burnout or caregiver fatigue. This will not only impact your own well-being, but your relationship with your loved one as well.

Burnout

If you are experiencing signs of burnout, it is essential that you prioritize your well-being and take a necessary break. Signs of burnout include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed and/or exhausted
  • Experiencing an increase in stress, symptoms of anxiety, and symptoms of depression
  • Experiencing changes in appetite and sleep
  • Feeling more easily irritated
  • Feeling helpless

Getting Help

Therapy can help you can process your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, which may improve your own coping skills as well as your communication skills. Counseling can be a beneficial resource that may offer you a fresh perspective and helpful guidance in a situation that may feel overwhelming and stressful.

If you're living with someone who has a mental health disorder, it is not unusual for you to experience a range of emotions such as frustration, anger, and sadness. Seeking out individual, couples counseling, and/or family therapy that aims to strengthen your relationship can be immensely helpful during this time.

Emotions can be explored in a productive way with couples counseling. Couples can learn to establish appropriate expectations and set healthy boundaries. Couples counseling may also help prevent you from falling into unhealthy dynamics with your partner.

Even if your partner isn't ready or comfortable going to therapy, you may find it helpful to have a safe and non-judgmental place for support for yourself.

If your child has a mental health condition, you might consider going to family therapy. Family therapy can help manage the effects of your child's mental illness on all members of your family. You can also learn the best ways to support your child through their illness.

Consider seeing your own individual counselor to help support you during this time, even if you are already in couples counseling or family therapy. Therapy can help you process your own emotions and allow you to keep showing up for your loved one in a healthy way.

A Word From Verywell

If a person you live with has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, there are steps you both can take to maintain and even improve your relationship. Keep in mind that it's up to both of you to prioritize your well-being as individuals, as well as within your relationship.

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