Care for caregivers: Here’s how to take care if your partner has mental health issues

Life is hard enough when you have to face mental health issues on your own. But it’s heart-wrenching to face and watch the mental health issues of your loved ones. Having a partner who is facing issues like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other mental health disorders is not just a tough job but can be cruel too. 

Once your partner is diagnosed with any of the mental health issues, you inevitably become their caregiver. Looking after them can be physically tiring and can lead to mental exhaustion. The proper term for this condition is called caregiver burnout. 

Caregiver burnout can take place due to:

  • Lack of self-care: You are too busy taking ‘proper’ care of your loved one and forget to check your health. You tend to push all your free time in taking care of your partner. 
  • Overwhelmed feelings: You continuously, day after day take care of your partner. You become emotionally worked up. Your feelings and emotions become fragile. You can’t seek the same comfort to share with your partner. You end up feeling lonely and anxious.
  • Lack of control: Financial issues and other problems like unable to manage or execute the care needed can lead to frustration and anger. 
  • Unrealistic demands and expectations: You expect sudden health changes in the patient and demand yourself to do better. When in reality you are pushing yourself beyond your limits. You believe that with your extensive care, your partner will heal and recover. But that’s not always the case, every patient recovery is different.

When your companion is going through a mental illness, little do you realise that your mental health takes a toll too. And it’s important to take care of your health. 

 “Accepting how one feels about tiredness, feeling the emotion of “not wanting to care anymore” is something that caregivers can first acknowledge. Acknowledging the emotions, without running away from it or denying it is the first step to self-care. This does not mean that the person does not care for the patient”

Shruthi Santhanam, a Hyderabad based Clinical Psychologist

There are certain ways to contain your mental exhaustion. You and your partner need to learn and understand each other. This also helps the process of recovery. The following are some key factors that help both the patient and the family to understand and co-exist. 

Understand the patient: One of the key features of mental health recovery is that people shouldn’t just understand the signs and symptoms of their illness but also understand the patient as a person. They need to be seen, heard and validated for their existence. The patient expects people most close to them like their friends, family and most importantly their caregivers to see the person beneath the label of their mental illness. 

Understand yourself (Caregiver): Another important factor is to understand yourself. To know when it’s too much to take in. When it’s important to take a break. And when to shut down for a while. Maintaining a journal helps. In the journal you can write about your emotions and how they made you feel. Some people turn to entertainment such as watching light comedies to ease their emotions. 

Triggers: The word trigger sounds very powerful because it is very powerful in mental health. You and your partner both have triggers that make you snap or open wounds that have buried deep inside you. One way to be aware of each other’s triggers is to have an open conversation with your spouse about them.

How To Help: This is the most commonly asked question by caregivers to doctors. One great help or solution could be family therapy so that the couple as well as other members of the family can help and understand each other. Psychologists suggest different therapies for different disorders. 

How to Co-exist: Like any other thing in the world. It is important to acknowledge our insecurities and issues. The same applies to couples who face mental health issues. We must accept, co-relate and co-exist with the problems that lie in front. It will be difficult at first but knowing and accepting the problems at hand will definitely help in the long run. 

“Spouses caring for a partner with a mental illness feel stressed and anxious. Since the illness tends to be chronic and demanding. In chronic illnesses, burnout and emotional exhaustion are bound to occur,” said Dr Praneeth Sabbani, DNB psychiatry.

“In such cases, doctors educate the families to prepare them. Psychoeducation is used to help the caregiver or the family understand the illness, its symptoms, treatment, its effectiveness, financial burden, side effects etc,” he added.