Living With Someone With Mental Illness

Signs of mental illness

Verywell / Laura Porter

Experiencing a mental illness, also known as a mental health disorder, can be very hard on a relationship, especially when you live together.

The stress of living with someone with mental illness may reach a crisis level and you may fall into a pattern where managing the mental health disorder becomes the thing around which the relationship is centered. You may struggle to depend on them to take care of their responsibilities, like paying rent.

If their behavior is unpredictable, you may wonder how to help them while still setting boundaries to protect yourself. Even considering the potential stress, however, mental illness doesn't have to degrade a relationship.

In spite of the challenges, there are strategies you can use to deal with stress and help the individual with their symptoms. If you're living with someone with mental illness, give these tips a try.

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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 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 living with someone with mental illness. You must be able to trust them to stay on top of their treatment plan. You may become stressed if they can't fulfill the responsibilities you agreed upon such as paying rent or keeping a tidy living space.

It can be frustrating if your loved one's 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 your partner's condition to 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.

Loving someone with mental illness can present its own difficulties. If the relationship is romantic, you may experience challenges with intimacy as well. Depending on your partner's mental health condition and any medications they take, they may experience hypersexual behaviors (strong sexual urges) or they may not be interested in sex at all, both of which can be difficult on relationships.

Learn About Living With Mental Illness

There is a lot of misinformation about the causes and best treatment options for different mental health disorders. To understand your partner's condition:

Signs of Mental Illness

Depending on the person'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 worry
  • 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

Be Supportive

When someone has been newly diagnosed, the 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 who 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.

How to Support 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 include 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.

How to Support 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.

Don't 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.

How to Support Your Friend or Roommate

If you live with a close friend who has a mental illness, you might notice a change in their behavior. 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 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.

These roles offer your loved one the opportunity to feel supported and 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:

  • Practicing good sleep hygiene
  • Making sure you get some regular physical activity
  • Nourishing your body
  • Spending time with trusted friends and loved ones
  • Engaging in activities or hobbies that you enjoy
  • Journaling about your thoughts and feelings
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation
  • Staying connected to your body through progressive muscle relaxation, especially during times of stress

Be mindful of signs of burnout or caregiver fatigue. Experiencing burnout will not only impact your own well-being but your relationship with your loved one as well.


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 therapy, 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 loved one isn't ready or comfortable going to therapy, you may find it helpful to have a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental place 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you deal with a mentally ill spouse?

    Try communicating with (and listening to) your spouse as much as possible. Research treatment options—you might attend doctor's visits together to learn how you can both cope with their condition. Build a supportive community of friends and family to help you.

  • How does having a mentally ill spouse affect you?

    You might experience challenges like burnout, especially if you are your partner's primary caregiver or if you're overwhelmed by responsibilities that your partner can't take care of. At the same time, you have the opportunity to experience empathy, love, and compassion as you stand by your partner amidst their struggles with mental illness.

  • How can you protect your finances if your spouse is mentally ill?

    You might consider having separate spending accounts (as opposed to joint accounts). Some banks offer a spending cap on debit cards, which might help prevent your partner from spending an excessive amount at once. You might also consider entering a postnuptial agreement which would divide assets in the case of divorce.

  • How can you be there for a spouse who is mentally ill?

    Show your partner empathy and validate their feelings. Understand that they don't control their symptoms. Seek support from your community and/or a support group—both for your spouse and for yourself. To help your spouse, it's important to take care of your emotional needs, too.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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