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When a Spouse Has a Mental Illness

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Joined: 21 Aug 2017
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gender: female
Region: Lower Mainland BC
City or Region: Vancouver

When a Spouse Has a Mental Illness

Unread postby RachelBCSS » 29 Jun 2018

In Unfaithful Mind, Marion Gibson shares how she and her family were impacted by her husband’s sudden onset of schizophrenia. Marion and her husband John were happily married with three children, when at the age of 45, John began to experience paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. He became convinced that Marion was trying to poison him, and later, that she was cheating on him. He accused her of sleeping with other men – friends, coworkers and acquaintances. This sudden change in behavior put significant strain on their relationship and caused disruptions for the entire family. Marion didn’t know if their relationship would survive, especially when she was the target of her husband’s delusions.

After a long search for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment, John is now stable on anti-psychotic medications, and Marion and John have been able to rebuild their life together. By sharing the story of her husband’s illness, Marion hopes to reduce the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and let other spouses know that they are not alone.

Read more about Marion’s story.

The Impact of Mental Illness on Spouses

Couples face many challenges when one of them has a mental illness, potentially straining their relationship and changing how they interact with each other. For example, one spouse may need to take on the majority of the household responsibilities, while also providing care for their spouse with mental illness. Financial difficulties can also result due to a spouse’s inability to work or financial mismanagement. As well, the couple’s social life, levels of physical intimacy and how they relate to each other may change.

When a person starts exhibiting symptoms of a mental illness, their spouse may experience a range of emotions. They may feel worried or scared about what will happen, or hurt and betrayed, especially if the symptoms of the mental illness cause their spouse to become suspicious of them or engage in reckless behaviour. They may even feel relief, because there is a reason behind the strange behaviours their spouse has been exhibiting. Some spouses feel guilt and shame - sometimes even blaming themselves for causing the mental illness, while others feel angry or frustrated trying to cope with the challenges caused by the mental illness.

It’s normal for spouses to experience a sense of loss for the relationship they had with their partner and the life they envisioned together. They may question whether their relationship can survive these challenges or whether staying in the relationship is a good idea.

It’s also easy for spouses to become focused on finding help for their partner and supporting their family, but it’s important to remember to take care of one’s own well-being. Strong support systems are vital for any family coping with a loved one’s mental illness, and even more so for a spouse. Being able to talk to other spouses about their emotions and find strategies on how to manage the challenges that come when their spouse has a mental illness is valuable. Couples therapy or individual counselling may be helpful. It is also useful to seek out other resources like family support groups, education courses and information about mental illness.

Resources for Spouses

Learning more about mental illness and hearing the stories from other spouses who have overcome similar challenges can help spouses come to terms with their new reality and build coping skills. Here is a list of resources for spouses:

A Guide for Spouses of Partners with Serious Mental Illness is a resource for spouses who are supporting a partner with mental illness. This guide acknowledges the impact of mental illness on spouses and provides information to help spouses cope. It includes tips for communicating effectively with their partner and setting limits on problematic behaviours.

Support groups can be a source of valuable support, providing a space for spouses to connect with others about their experiences and share advice and resources. Find family support groups across B.C.

Online support groups for family members and friends of people with a mental illness are also available through the Reaching Families Project. There is a support group specifically for LGBTQ+ partners of persons with a mental illness.

B.C. Schizophrenia Society offers a range of support and education services for family members, including spouses. Resources include family support groups, Strengthening Families Together and Strengthening Families Together-First Nations courses and direct family support.

The Family Support and Involvement Team through Vancouver Coastal Health helps families access resources and advocates for their inclusion in their loved one’s care. They have a Family Connections Support Group for family members who are supporting a loved one with mental illness and/or substance use problems.

Supporting a Friend or Family Member by Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division shares information about how to support a loved one with mental illness, including helping them with treatment, providing emotional support and taking care of oneself.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) also provides helpful online articles for spouses. How to Love Someone With A Mental Illness, Communicating with a Loved One Who Has a Mental Illness and Taking Care of Yourself offer advice for navigating the challenges that come when a spouse has a mental illness.

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