Caring for a Loved One with a Serious Mental Illness

Lately, I have been doing my best to speak out about mental health to raise awareness in the midst of this turbulent year. I have shared openly about my experience with anxiety and how I have been able to manage and overcome it, at least for now. But the biggest reason I have decided to advocate for mental health is because I care for a loved one with a serious mental illness.

Jeff’s Diagnosis

In 2018, when I was pregnant, my husband Jeff was diagnosed with Major Depression and PTSD, and this changed both of our lives forever. Jeff had his first major depressive episode in 2018 when I was 20 weeks pregnant. That year, he really struggled and was hospitalized 3 separate times. Supporting him through this is by far the hardest thing I’ve gone through in my life.

The first time he was hospitalized, I felt confused and absolutely terrified. I remember crying all the time, trying to hold it all together. I still had to go to work and pretend like everything was normal, even though my husband was in the hospital fighting an invisible illness and my whole life was turned upside down.

At the time, I didn’t tell anyone what was going on, not even my parents. As his wife, I felt very isolated and like I had no one to talk to about it. I didn’t know of anyone in my life that had gone through anything like this before. I didn’t even really understand depression myself. Supporting Jeff through the depressive episode was incredibly difficult and emotionally taxing. Caring for a loved one with a mental illness is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Getting Support for Myself

The thing that finally made a difference to help me as a support person was to get support myself. I started meeting with Jeff’s therapist and she helped me to understand depression, what he was going through, and how I could take care of myself emotionally during that incredibly difficult time (especially since I was pregnant). Talking with my own therapist also helped me to process my feelings and my fears.

I wanted so badly to be able to take control of the situation, and to be able to have some certainty, and for things to just go back to normal. What was in store for our family? What if I lose Jeff? How would I be able to raise this baby? These all became very real questions for me that I never expected to be asking myself 4 years into our marriage. Thankfully, God stepped into my life and allowed me to place my burden in His hands.

Jeff is doing a lot better now than he was in 2018, but he still has good and bad days. We have both learned so much in the process, and our communication has grown stronger. We take life one day at a time, and put the uncertainty of this illness into God’s hands daily.

Supporting Others with Loved Ones who Struggle

I recently decided to become a NAMI Family Support Group Facilitator. I’ll be leading a support group that is specifically for people who have a spouse with a mental illness. When I was supporting Jeff through the crisis in 2018, I would have loved to be a part of a support group like this. I want to support others who are going through what I have gone through, and I want to let them know that they are not alone in this.

If you love someone who is struggling with their mental health, support is available for you too. You are not alone, and you will get through this. For more information about caring for a loved one with a mental illness, you can visit https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/Support-Groups/NAMI-Family-Support-Group to learn about NAMI Family Support groups and other resources that NAMI has to offer.

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