The conversation around mental health is becoming more mainstream as millennials and generation Z children explore therapy and the notion of self-care. Tackling issues seen as taboo in Black communities, therapists help guide thoughts and emotions into positive patterns.
For those who suffer from mental health illnesses, including depression and anxiety, finding help can be hard and require a lot of energy. In relationships, partners suffering from mental health issues will rely on their significant other for a trustworthy safe space. However, if the need becomes too great, seeking professional help will help partners and their significant others learn to balance the needs of their relationship and their mind.
Stigmas surrounding mental health continue to be a main barrier in the lack of therapy. Many partners do not confide in their significant others that a mental health issue exists. Fear of ridicule, judgement and rejection are leading factors in keeping mental health concealed.
“It’s stigmatized. If you tell someone you’re going to see a therapist, they look at you sideways. Maybe not so much in the last year and a half because of the pandemic and people are open to it. I think mental health is very stigmatized and we come from a culture where you don’t talk about your business,” says Yasmine Toney, licensed professional counselor and physiotherapist. “I don’t think people are comfortable with how it will be received from their partner.”
In Black communities, life circumstances impact mental health and may help to aggravate episodes. Historically, African Americans have been subjected to years of mental angst and are now beginning to seek help.
“We have a different umbrella because I think the trauma we’ve endured as a people substantiates mental illness in a way that I think is not always addressed or validated. A lot of our conditions perpetuate those diagnoses,” says Toney.
Being able to recognize signs that a partner is in peril will take time and open communication. Common shifts that can signal mental angst are changes in diet or appetite, mood swings, no upkeep or desire for personal hygiene and shifts in libido. Sleeping habits are also affected during mental health episodes.
“Telltale signs will really look like an altering of what is normal behavior. Keep in mind, too, that sometimes life happens and you’re just dealing with life and not a mental health episode. You have to pay attention to the person to know what is normal and what is abnormal to access if they are going through a mental health crisis,” says Toney.
Creating a safe and loving environment are key in reveal and in recovery. Remaining judgement-free and having a sense of understanding will help partners feel supported.
“I think education and knowing a little bit about it [mental illness], but also communication and asking how you can support them. There is no generic way that you can support a partner because everyone is different and everybody’s needs are different, but I will say having an open mind and being coachable and teachable [are important]. Every episode doesn’t look the same and not every person requires the same support,” says Toney. “Being able to communicate and vulnerable enough to try is the baseline for what support will look like. Hearing the person even if they aren’t talking because behavior is loud.”
There will be days when caring for a partner can be overwhelming. In these cases, partners are also encouraged to find healthy outlets and seek help if needed. Taking steps to secure personal mental health while helping a partner though episodes are essential to self-health. While partners are triggered, it is important to have a handle on stress and other factors that may cause an additional episode for self.
“First and foremost, you have to ask yourself if you are willing to be in that role because it requires a little bit more. Everyone has to take a self-assessment. Mental health is important for everybody. I think it’s really important knowing your threshold and how much you can take,” says Toney.
For partners, encouraging significant others to take action can, in some cases, help save their lives. Remaining a healthy and supportive fixture will ultimately help partners heal and relationships thrive.