The warning signs can be subtle or fairly obvious; either way, it is important to know how to help your loved one.

In Australia, the prevalence of mental illness is hard to ignore, with approximately one in every five Australians (that’s 20 per cent of the population) experiencing a mental illness each year. A staggering 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and these rates continue to rise each year. Mental illness can be something we experience first hand or indirectly through people close to us, like our spouse. The warning signs can be subtle or fairly obvious; either way it is important to know how to help your loved one.

Talk to them

Talking to them seems like an obvious suggestion however, it can be a daunting conversation to have. Opening up the lines of communication when it comes to mental health can be hard for all of us, especially for the person who is suffering. Start by saying things like “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately, is there anything you’d like to talk about?”

Try to start the conversation when you are both calm and pick your timing wisely. Don’t start the conversation just before you go to bed or when you don’t have enough time to sit down with them and talk.

Also consider the words and language that you use—try to avoid blaming statements like “you should” which can make them feel guilty and isolated. If you’re worried about not saying the right thing, check out Conversations Matter which is a resource to help you know what to say.

Do be mindful that your partner might not feel comfortable talking to you, and that’s ok. In this instance suggest another close friend or family member, or seek the help of a professional.

Be there for support

It is important to let your spouse know that you are there for them emotionally, but also practically. Beyond being the person they can talk to about how they’re feeling, try to be there to help pick up some other responsibilities that could help them in this trying time. Perhaps you take over some of their house duties or take on picking up the kids from school for a little while, to ease some of the burden they may be feeling.

When someone is struggling, small tasks can sometimes feel overwhelming, so if there’s a way that you can help, suggest it as an option to assist them. Try not to ask them what they need, particularly if they are highly anxious. This can actually overwhelm the person even more.

Where appropriate, let them know you’ve arranged for someone to pick the children up so they can visit the gym, or have time to themselves, or that you’ve done the grocery shop for the week.

Look after your own mental health

This might seem counter-intuitive if it’s your spouse who is suffering, however, looking after your own mental health is just as important as supporting your spouse. Supporting a spouse who is struggling can be draining and consuming.

Seeking support yourself from close friends and family, or from professionals, can help you feel confident in supporting your partner an in ensuring your own wellbeing is taken care of. If you feel like emotions are running high and it is affecting you, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Know where to get professional help

Knowing where to seek help is important so you’re able to provide suggestions for your partner. Even if you think your partner doesn’t need it, provide some options to them just in case. Oftentimes your partner could be trying to stay strong for you and not reveal the true agony they’re in. Services such Lysn offer one-on-one sessions with psychologists from the comfort of your home via phone or video chat, which is an excellent resource providing ease of access and confidentiality.

Otherwise, speak to a GP who can suggest a suitable psychologist or look to places such as Beyond Blue, SANE Australia and Lifeline (Australia and New Zealand) who all offer free over the phone counselling services. In cases of emergency or if your partner is suicidal, please call 000 (Australia) or 111 (New Zealand) immediately.

Jarrod Stackelroth shares his story on what it’s like to support his wife, who is struggling with a mental illness.

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