How to Support Your Spouse in A Mental Health Crisis
 

How to Support Your Spouse in A Mental Health Crisis

In sickness and in mental health

By Mark Lim | 15 October 2020

About three years ago, Samuel* suddenly experienced an acute case of anxiety disorder.

“I just broke down one night when I came home after my day at work. I poured out how I felt to my wife Sandra*.

“Thereafter, I began to experience an overwhelming sense of failure in almost every aspect of my life – as a father, husband, son and worker.” Samuel became especially paranoid about safety and obsessed with the possibility that one of his three children could get hurt.

The anxiety grew worse and Samuel often got upset at their choice of lunch venues, even when they were out with friends. He got angry often and shut down when Sandra asked to talk. The tension increased between the couple and gradually took a toll on their marriage.

For Karen*, her battle with anxiety went back as far as her university days. She feared exams so much that there were times when she chose to skip them altogether. The issue persisted after graduation, and there were days when she would skip work. The last straw was when she attempted suicide for the second time. Her husband Keith* made the decision to seek professional help for his wife.

I began to experience an overwhelming sense of failure in almost every aspect of my life.

Initial steps toward healing

For Karen, the first visit to the psychiatrist was not easy. She felt uncertain about seeking help and didn’t fully understand all that he had said. It would take many visits to different psychiatrists and lots of counselling before she finally embarked on the path of healing.

While the medication helped to adjust the chemical imbalance in her brain, the counselling enabled her to process her thoughts and work towards self-acceptance. Karen also learnt that it was important to stay the course of the medication according to what had been prescribed by the doctors, and to persist in the counselling therapy so that she would be able to sort out her thoughts and think more coherently.

Samuel managed to overcome the “taboo” of seeking professional help after he found out that a friend was also seeing a therapist. Furthermore, encouragement from his pastor, teacher and close friends helped as they shared stories about friends who were on medication, and this helped to normalise seeking help to improve his mental health.

The importance of support

He also shared that he would not have been able to make it through the process without the support, love and acceptance of his wife. He said, “I can't think of any other way of putting this across. She is truly the long-suffering one.”

For Sandra, the process was also not easy. “On hindsight, had I known what he was dealing with at that time, there were many things I would have done differently. I think I could have listened better and perhaps advised him differently.”

She realised it was important to play the role of “cheerleader” and “bridge” to the kids. “Sometimes Samuel would get anxious and shut down or withdraw in spite of plans already made. I would have to explain to the children that their father needed time and then engage them in other things.”

A counsellor helped as a translator for Keith to understand Karen and to know what he can do to help her.

For Keith, it was all about just being there with his wife. “I find it hard to share my inner thoughts – especially with a third party. But I learnt to understand and appreciate the role of a counsellor. Men tend to solve problems. A good counsellor will be able to break down my thoughts and help me to understand myself better. A counsellor helps as a translator for me to understand my wife and helps me know what I can do to help her. There’s someone there to mediate and help us listen to each other.”

Karen agreed, “Through talk therapy, the counsellor helped me to express my inner thoughts. It became a relationship counselling session on how Keith could support me. The deeper understanding that Keith had for me then enabled us to deal with our emotions in a calmer manner.”

I feel that I am no longer bound by my mental health issues. But we have to share with others and get help.

Light at the end of the tunnel

At the end of the day, Karen emphasized that there is no need to fight the battle alone. “Mental health issues are more common these days though people may not be sharing about them. Be open to share your problems with others even in the workplace. With more awareness about mental health, people try to work around your issues and help you. My boss has seen the functional and productive side of me and has allowed me to take days off when I am unwell. I feel that I am no longer bound by my mental health issues. But we have to share with others and get help.”

Sandra concurred. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel and things will get better over time. So hang in there. You are not alone and you don't have to go through it alone. I think it's really important to have people to talk to. For the husband and wife individually, but also together as a couple. In really trying moments, it helps to have a friend that you could just send an SOS text to ask to pray or to share that you are having a really hard time. That can feel like a weight is lifted off your shoulders.”

*The names in this article have been changed to protect the identity of the persons interviewed.

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Mark Lim is consultant & counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 10 and 8.

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