According to this Forbes article, when Kanye West shared his plans to run for president in the upcoming election earlier this month, some assumed he was in the throes of a manic episode. It seemed like a confirmation of their diagnosis when he made some disturbing and confusing comments on his rally which was held on July 19th in South Carolina to support his presidential bid. The assumption was further reinforced when he made a set of confusing and disturbing tweets the following Monday and Tuesday. This comes a year after he discussed the involuntary psychiatric hold in 2016 and his subsequent diagnosis in 2017 on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes mood cycles, ranging from intense manic happiness to a deep depression. When you do your research, the status quo tells you that it is possible to be in a healthy, loving, and blossoming relationship with someone that has mental health conditions. This is completely true.
However, it is important to add that there are unique challenges that come with it. These challenges may be a little trickier and definitely different from a relationship with a psycho-socially disabled partner. But before all these come up in the relationship, you both would have to get past the initial stage when the mental health condition was revealed to you.
Before becoming a partner
In a study done by PsychGuides in the US, only 52% of men and 73.5% of women had told their partner about their mental health condition. Out of these people, 29.6% told their prospective partner immediately while 25.3% told their partner within a month. 28.7% disclosed the information within 1 to six months, 9.8% within six months to a year, and 11.6% waited till after a year.
All of these can be linked to the stigma on mental health. Because people have very stigmatizing views of mental health and limited knowledge of mental health conditions, people are less likely to understand and tolerate.
From our community, we’ve noticed that people who disclose their conditions within the first meeting to a month are thinking “let’s get it over with and see if he/she sticks around for a long term commitment after this”. For those between one month to a year, it’s more like, “we have gotten to a comfortable pace now and I hope the stigma will not drive him/her away”.
At She Writes Woman, we’ve noticed that people may understand other forms of disabilities, but struggle to accept mental health conditions because they don’t believe in its validity. It’s easier for an average Nigerian to understand blindness, hearing issues or speech impediment rather than bipolar disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So when people are talking about mental health conditions within a romantic relationship context, there is an extra agitation.
This may be why people with mental health conditions are pairing up with a partner that understands exactly how it is. According to this study by Nordsletten et al., people with mental disorders were two to three times more likely than the general population to have a romantic partner with any mental disorder.
The general view amongst psychosocially disabled persons is that their diagnosis has to be shared with someone they are envisioning a long term commitment with. If you are about to become the prospective partner and carer in some situations, it’s important to understand the sensitivity and know it is very necessary to listen without any stigma, shame, or judgment.
It is also crucial, at this point, to ask yourself if this is something you can deal with. If you fear that you may not be able to handle the situation with the necessary care and sensitivity that’s needed, you should consider consulting professional support.
On supporting a partner living with a mental health condition
Please know that you cannot ‘fix’ them. This is a mental health condition that no amount of your fixing can completely solve. You cannot be their therapist either. No matter how hard or frustrating it is, you must leave trying to provide psychological help for their own therapist even if you are a mental health professional.
One thing to not do is also attribute everything, whether good or bad, about them to their mental health condition. Blaming any compulsive or ill-thought action on their mental health condition can make you an enabler to continuing bad behavior/thought processes.
This doesn’t mean that some traits are not tied to their conditions. This means they need to take full responsibility for their behavior and by enabling or excusing them, you encourage them to attribute their hurt on people to their condition. This allows them to abdicate responsibility for their actions.
What you can do as a loved one?
Encourage them to seek professional support
In the midst of everything going on with Kanye West, the same social media spectators wondered how his wife, Kim Kardashian West, was dealing with all of this. A few days later, she put out a statement:
“People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individuals themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard the family tries. Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand. Those that understand mental illness or compulsive behaviour know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor.”
Sometimes, it’s hard for loved ones with a mental health condition to see how much they need support. It is highly unlikely that an adult will be able to force another adult to access professional support, so you have to offer encouragement and support while waiting for the loved one to take the first step. While patience is a highly recommended skill, it is in no way showing that you should be complicit. You have to do your best in putting in encouragement and support and that can be quite challenging at times to uphold.
In our work at She Writes Woman, we see how things pan out when a family member or friend is the key stakeholder in getting therapy for the person with a mental health condition. Once the family member or friend decides to hand over that responsibility to the person with a mental health condition, the healing journey may slow down, take another turn or stop completely and that can be linked to this person not having the initial ‘ginger’. This situation can be frustrating and painful, but the only thing you can do is work with empathy, validate their experiences, and try to make them see the reasons why. At a point, when it looks overwhelming to you, therapy can help you process feelings and look for new, healthy, and positive coping strategies.
You can also attend couples’ counseling for professional expertise and guidance when navigating the relationship. It can help stop any unhealthy dynamic that’s going on and promote effective communication.
It’s important to remember that apart from mental health conditions, there will be normal day-to-day relationship problems and any issue faced should not be directly chalked up to the condition. If you need any help on what to do, join our online community which also serves as a non-judgemental safe place. You can message us from any time anywhere. Remember, there’s a safe place where you can be heard without judgment. You are not alone.
Self-care! Self-care! Self-care!
Another thing to emphasize is that you can never give from an empty cup. You need to make out time for yourself. To prevent caregiving and compassion fatigue, take self-care days. It could be physical exercises, sleeping well, organising a rest day, or a relaxing spa day.
In some cases, if you find out that being with someone with a mental health condition is stressful and draining for you, you can leave. It is necessary to leave when the relationship becomes violent, affects your mental health, is abusive, or even narcissistic. This will not come without guilt, but it’s important to remind yourself of the reasons why you left. If you need any help or advice, look for mental health resources online or contact us at She Writes Woman.
Romantic relationships require a lot of hard work, no matter the circumstance. The truth is that there’s a probability of character flaw or physical condition that needs to be handled with effective communication and sensitivity in most relationships.
Any relationship with its challenges can work if the two people involved have certain kinds of qualities required. If they are actively learning clear and effective communication, personal development, and self-awareness, the relationship is more likely to work. This does not differ for a relationship that includes someone with a mental health condition.
For the one who is considering committing to a long term relationship with someone that has a mental health condition, it will come in very handy if you are willing and able to create a support system and understand triggers.
This piece was written for She Writes Woman by Fawziyya Zakariyya. If you have any questions or clarification, we have free counseling sessions on ground for anyone going through mental health struggles. You can call Fawziyya on 07038205947 to book a slot.