Illness shows up in many forms. Your spouse may be struggling with a chronic silent physical illness – Lupus, Crohn’s Disease, Diabetes, etc. Or a mental illness. Regardless of the disease your day-to-day living is impacted. Disease rearranges finances, relationships with other people, career choices, family dynamics, and future outlook. And a mental illness is as devastating as a physical disease.
1 in 4 adults will experience mental illness at some point in their life –
1 in 17 people live with mental illness.
How do you encourage a spouse with mental illness?
My best female friend has been battling depression and anxiety for more than 10 years. She and her husband, Peter, have tried everything. Everything. And yet this disease remains a daily struggle. Donna focuses on getting through the hour. Sleep is her only refuge.
Every now and again her ‘spark’ shows up – that uniqueness that is Donna – she can smile and joke and interact with her husband and children. She’s such a fun person with ideas and drive and wit and compassion. They – we – all look forward to those moments.
Peter, her husband, wrote a blog post in October 2011 for Encourage Your Spouse. He does a much better job of describing how to help a spouse with a mental illness than I ever could. Here’s his post:
So here it is…my wife Donna, suffers from depression.
Wow, there’s a load off my chest.
How do I cope with her illness as a supportive spouse?
That’s a good question – I give and get help. What does help mean to me?
I hope everyday that something will change or improve for Donna – even the littlest things are celebrated. But putting my hope and trust only in doctors, is short-sighted on my part.
My hope is in the fact that God knows the future, He lives in the present, and He offers hope to the hopeless. Knowing He is with us gives me strength! I remind Donna of that often…which leads me to…
This one is sometimes tough to do on a daily basis. I try to offer thoughts and actions of encouragement to Donna. Sometimes I fall short and add no value to her. Other times, the value I add is just to be there for her. The value I give is to listen when she wants to share her thoughts. I can’t solve the problem – that I know. But I can certainly listen and offer encouragement whenever possible to her.
Donna and I have been married over 24 years now. Boy time has flown by fast. In all those years my love for Donna has transformed – in a good way. Sure we’ve had our struggles and still do, but we’ve also experienced great joys and triumphs.
I look at Donna in wonderment as to her resolve in continuing on, even when the road ahead is not yet traveled. She has more difficult days than not, but every morning before I leave for work, I pray over her and give her a kiss on my way out.
She is precious because God gave her to me. Being a depressed person, she may not always see that…but I do try and take opportunities to show her that she plays an important part of my life.
This is a big one for me.
Prayer has gotten us through a lot of things over the years. I pray for Donna every day.
I also pray to God and thank Him every day for the wedding blessing we received many years ago. The Covenant I made with Donna and God is as important to me now as it was then. The three of us are still together! I don’t want to take that for granted.
I know God will continue to strengthen us both whatever journey He decides we walk on. He is always with us.
And lastly, we are not too proud to ask God for help – we know He will give it to us if we approach Him humbly. We also realize God may not give us the help in a way or time that we think He should. For me, this is the part that I need to grow into – His thoughts are not my thoughts… His ways are not my ways.
Sure I wish things would be different – but they aren’t.
The only question left to ask is…
“What am I to learn from this experience?”
Perhaps the answer is to simply share it with others so they too can get – H.E.L.P.
Peter and Donna carry on in life. They will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in August. Donna has pushed herself to plan a celebration – this was very difficult, but celebrating is important to Peter, so Donna works through her anxiety and is sending out invitations, planning the food, and all the other activities necessary for a significant celebration.
If you or your spouse is battling mental illness, reach out for help.
NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness – is a great organization. It provides avenues of assistance for caregivers and those living in the illness. Reach out and surround yourself with a strong support system.
Peter and Donna have a strong, supportive church family who understand their challenges. Friends take Donna out of the house for the day. They go walking with her. They are available on the phone when Donna needs to hear a word of encouragement.
Peter sings in a choir and they keep his spirit up and focused on his joys. (he’s the first one to sing in this video)
There is hope. As with any illness, hope can burn brightly. It’s possible to keep hope alive. As a spouse of someone living with mental illness, it’s imperative that you arm yourself with every possible tool to keep moving forward. Encouraging your spouse is good – but as the encourager, your responsibility is to keep your “well” full.
What’s our job?
Maybe our spouse isn’t ill. Nor are we. But if 1 in 17 people are living with mental illness, then my guess is we all know someone with this disease.
Perhaps our job is to provide support? Sometimes a smile, a hug, or a cup of coffee is enough to show you noticed, and you care.
Don’t leave them alone in their illness…