Q&A: How Do I Cope with My Spouse’s Mental Illness?

I receive a lot of inquiries from people asking for advice about living with mental illness, loving someone with a mental disorder, and doing ministry among people with mental illness and their families. I can’t offer the kind of advice and help a mental health professional can give, but I can point people in the direction of resources that might help them. Sometimes it’s a matter of just introducing people to resources that are available. Sometimes it’s a matter of sharing my own personal experience and my own perspective.

Occasionally I share some of these interactions* here, for the benefit of others who may have similar questions.

Here’s one:

Question: My husband has a serious mental illness, and sometimes I find it very hard to cope. I worry about our kids, too, who are sometimes confused and scared of his behavior. I asked my pastor for help, and he said I can come and talk to him anytime, but he didn’t really have any good advice for me. My husband does get treatment, and he is doing better, but it’s still hard. I want to have a strong marriage, but this is a serious challenge. How can I find help?

Answer: I can imagine there’s a tremendous amount of pain and fear behind your questions, and in your relationship with your husband. I’m so glad you’re asking these questions and looking for answers in the Christian community.

As you may know, I’m not a mental health professional, and I can’t give a lot of advice on that front. The good thing is, you have a diagnosis you can work with, so if you haven’t done much research to learn about that particular disorder, I encourage you to learn as much as you can. The National Institute of Mental Health is a really good place for information. I also encourage you to seek out a counselor who can meet with you regularly to process your experience and help you stay healthy and strong while you’re dealing with your husband’s illness and his symptoms.

I can also offer encouragement in the fact that you’re not alone–God is with you and many others have been where you are. You might find this article encouraging.

Regarding resources for your marriage, the best recommendation I can make is for you to get involved in a support group. Because of my family experience, I’m very aware of the strain serious mental illness can put on a marriage–and I also know a marriage can last through these trials (my parents have been married for 50 years despite my mother’s schizophrenia). Support groups have been a tremendous help. If there’s a NAMI chapter in your area, you can check with them for groups for family members. They might even have a group specifically for family members who live with people who have disorders similar to your husband’s. Depending on how old your children are, I’d also encourage you to find a support group or counselor for them to talk to.

You may also be able to find a Christian group. A couple of places I recommend you check to see if they have groups in your area:

Mental Health Grace Alliance
Fresh Hope

And please remember that loving your husband does not mean staying in a dangerous situation or exposing your children to trauma. If your husband poses a threat to himself or others, don’t hesitate to call the police and have them secure his safety and yours. And I recommend that if his illness is frightening and creating a confusing situation for your children, you take them to a safer place unless he is dedicated to receiving treatment and getting stable.

I hope this is helpful. And I hope God will make himself very real and precious to you and will help you heal in a way that makes your pain something he can use. I know you grieve; please know that there are many others who grieve as you do, even though many feel alone. And Christ grieves with you–this is not the way we were made to live. Someday he will redeem us as only he can, and all his children will see and understand clearly and will be overwhelmed with his grace and with a joy we can’t imagine now.

*Question has been modified to protect privacy.

2 Comments
  1. Ellie says:

    Very nice article, once again thanks Amy !

  2. Janelle says:

    We got a call yesterday that our friend committed suicide. It turns out he’d been diagnosed with depression but told almost no one, leaving his wife in the pressured position of both supporting him and also keeping his situation secret from people very, very close to him. He would regularly go without his meds. We’re closest with his brother, who is devastated. I applaud all spouses reading this blog who are working through these hard things. I hope you keep looking for support for yourselves until you find it. You deserve it.

© 2015 Amy Simpson.