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The One Thing to Remember When Loving Someone With Mental Illness

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Loving someone with a mental illness can come with challenges. You may go between wanting to take care of them, to protect them from everything, to being so frustrated you don’t think you can handle it anymore — and then guilty for feeling that way. I have been on both sides of the exchange.

I could go on about how to be supportive. I can tell you to listen to them, to get help when they really need it. I can tell you what triggers many people with their disease, and how to be sensitive. But there’s one thing, above all else, that I believe you need to remember when loving someone with a mental illness.

You are not the cure.

People cannot get better just because you want them to. You being there can help — it may even save their life — but you cannot be their “cure.” You can’t be inside their head, fighting those terrible thoughts, fighting calorie numbers, or the itch of scabs lining recent cuts as they heal up, reminding them every few minutes of that urge to harm. You can be an open ear, a safe person to confide in. You can support them in every way they allow, and recovery without that support can seem impossible — but you cannot force them to be better just by being there.

They did not choose this; they cannot choose to stop for your sake.

This also means you don’t have to feel bad about yourself if they don’t get “better.” You’re doing what you can, and they love you for that. Knowing that you care, that you are there, it can really help. But ultimately, it is up to them; it is up to their treatment plan. If they don’t want to recover yet, 100 percent, then they probably won’t recover yet. Maybe you can help stop it from getting worse from that point, and that in itself is a miracle for some of us. And sometimes, the little miracles are the ones that mean the most, even if we can’t be “cured.” We are eternally grateful for everything you do to support us, and for caring enough to be there.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The One Thing to Remember When Loving Someone With Mental Illness

Originally published: December 16, 2016
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