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My Partner’s Mental Health Is Getting Worse & So Is Mine — What Can We Do?

Welcome to Better Sex With Dr. Lexx, a monthly column where sex therapist, educator and consultant Dr. Lexx Brown-James shares expertise, advice and wisdom about sex, relationships and more. Approaching education about sex as a life-long endeavor — “from womb to tomb” — Dr. Lexx (AKA The #CouplesClinician) is your guide to the shame-free, medically accurate, inclusive and comprehensive conversations for you, your partner and your whole family. 

Lovers, your mental health status is too undervalued, still taboo, and very much real. We are still trying to manage this personal pan pizza of a pandemic and the changes of the world. It’s a lot of new and a whole lot of hard. Some of that hard has manifested in my own practice with new diagnoses of ADHD, Depression, Anxiety and a whole host of other mental health challenges that people see and struggle with daily.

What typically goes unnoticed, without grace, and often can sneak up on us is the mental health degradation of the caretaker — often the “other” significant other. Being the ‘healthier’ partner often means taking on a lot of the physical, social and emotional labor when one partner is down. This can be hard and easily have you weighed down.

When you’re feeling more irritable, more run down, and constantly thinking about your never ending to do list, it’s time to get help.

Mental health difficulties can be a thief of joy. Juggling a sick lover who might be angry, impossible to please, irate, or just absent all together can make partnerships feel lonely. Add juggling everyday life to that — work, walking the dog, taking care of kids, checking in on parents, missing time with friends — and life can feel, well, impossible. Before it gets to that point, when you notice missing your lover, being short tempered with the kids, or even wishing no one needed one more thing from you, it’s time to reach out for support — not just for you, but for everyone involved.

“When you’re feeling more irritable, more run down, and constantly thinking about your never ending to do list, it’s time to get help.”

Start with your partner. They might not have the ability to do things for themselves right now. If they need immediate help due to suicidality or homicidality, seek immediate attention from the appropriate emergency services. If they are not at the brink of harm, ensure their treatment team is aware of what is going on, help them set up their appointments, medication management, a rest schedule or routine and maybe one accountability chore. If there is something you can delegate that they enjoy, do that — no matter how ‘well’ the job gets done (or doesn’t). For example, if playing with the kids before bed is a favorite for your partner, then let them do just that (while you go mind your business for a bit).

Once their main health concerns are taken care of — therapy appointments set up, medication managed as necessary, etc.— you need to TAKE YOUR ‘YOU’ TIME.  (Yes, I’m shouting at you, with love.)

It can be so hard to carve out any time for our own mental health when a loved one is suffering. And, if you do not, you will suffer and degrade right next to them. ‘You time’ might be time in community, it might be personal time off where you escape somewhere else when you’re expected to be at work, it might be therapy of your own to get an evaluation and therapist to support you as you cope through this stress.

Some of my favorite places to go to look for a therapist include: Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men and National Queer and Trans Therapist Network

There are resources like the LoveLand Foundation who support free therapy sessions by offering vouchers. After you have your first therapy appointment, Congratulations! Celebrate the win and know there is a bit more to do to manage your own health. In the meantime, you have to delegate. I know this sounds daunting and maybe even downright scary but as humans we are not meant to live life alone.

“…as humans we are not meant to live life alone.”

With the pandemic, vaccinations, kids back in school and people returning to office, there might be more people you can ask for help than you think. This could mean making a purposeful COVID Bubble — where you choose to share space with people on purpose and limit other exposure — for sanity’s sake. Once you can identify helpers, ask for help. Things like walking the dog might easily be taken over by a friend who is still working from home. Creating a drop-off playdate for the kids might be something fun where they can see their classmates outside of a controlled school environment, maybe even asking your super smart nerdy friend to help with a school project instead of stretching you and your kid’s nerves about it. Delegate.

This goes for work too. Where can you say no to new projects, build in actual breaks during the workday, hydrate and feed yourself, and — I can’t stress this enough — use the bathroom when you have to go. (Stop holding a full bladder, the work will be there after you flush and wash your hands! Promise.)

Delegating is meant to help decrease the mental and emotional labor you take on when caring for a partner who has mental health challenges. Your mental health is important too and you do not always have to be ‘okay.’

The amount of pressure, fear, resentment, anger and all the other feelings can feel like you’re drowning — and that doesn’t help anyone, including you. Put down your super-cape, embrace your humanness and build support where you can: Your community and supporters are your life preservers. 

Before you go, check out some of our favorite mental health apps for giving your brain some extra TLC: 

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