The mental illness your spouse suffers affects your entire family. Keep remembering and reminding others that it is nobody's fault. It is an unfortunate illness. You cannot fix your partner's illness. There is nothing you can do to cure the illness, so don't feel compelled to try.

What you can do is be supportive and loving and handle the everyday details and practical issues of life that cannot be coped with. All members of the family have a responsibility to cope with the illness. Escape is not a helpful way to deal with crisis. You all need each other. The ill partner must recognize and accept the illness and be willing to receive treatment, and, if possible, learn to manage the treatment of the illness. If the ill partner is unwilling to do these things, it may become impossible for the family to continue support.

The family is not required to throw away their own lives for someone who refuses to cooperate. These are limits and they must be enforced without feelings of guilt. Educate yourself concerning every aspect of the illness. Education brings compassion. Ignorance just encourages anger, fear and prejudice. Grieve your loss. You need to allow yourself the time and energy to experience the entire process of grieving. Get help for yourself to cope with this incredible challenge, either from your own counselor or a support group.

You Can't Do It Alone

Don't refuse to recognize your own need for help just because an ill partner is getting most of the attention. Help your children understand the illness as much as their ages allow. Keep no family secrets. Don't deny them the opportunity to learn about the illness, the unfair stigma attached to it and to develop their own coping skills. It can be an incredible learning opportunity. If they need facts to help them understand the illness and their own feeling toward it, get information for them.

Try to create a safe environment for the partner to express thoughts without feeling threatened, constrained or condemned. Your partner desperately needs a nurturing, safe place to express the incredible frustration with the illness. Share your feelings honestly and openly with your children and other relatives. It is OK to feel angry and cheated. At times you may feel embarrassed by the ill partner's behavior. Avoid trying to protect your partner by not discussing the problem with family and friends. Don't require your partner to conspire with you in a code of family secrecy. Remember, small children, by their very nature, assume that they are responsible for anything that goes wrong in their environment.
Never put yourself or your children in physical danger. If you sense you spouse is becoming dangerous, leave the house and seek professional help. Never tolerate abuse of you or your children. Trust your instincts and intuition on this one. Say ‘no way' and mean it. Become an advocate with medical professionals. Become assertively involved in treatments and medications. If the psychiatrist will not cooperate with you, demand a different one.

Treatment should involve the entire family, so find a professional who will work with the whole family. You know more about the illness of your partner than anyone else. Realistically assess what your partner can and cannot handle, then compensate assertively. Some people with mental illnesses cannot handle money, some household chores, time commitments or too much stress. You must not do things for partners that they cannot do for themselves.

Don't Rob Them Of Their Dignity

Maintain your own identity, resist becoming consumed with the illness. You have an obligation to yourself and your children to take care of yourself and meet your own needs. You all must continue to develop your own interest and talents. You are a valuable human being, so don't play the martyr role and sacrifice yourself. That's just self pity. Keep a life. Always hope for healing.

The medications do work and new ones are being developed. You may get your partner back whole some day. If nothing else, the experience will broaden and deepen you in ways you never imagined. Or, you can choose to let it destroy you, your family and your marriage.

The choice is up to you. Keep in mind that bad things happen to good people and you are no exception. You have not been singled out for special persecution. Trying to make good choices in life will not protect you from misfortune. You have not been dumb to get yourself into this situation. It is not your fault. Life is not easy. We have to take what we get and make the best of it.

For more information, contact:

Your doctor

Your school / university / private practice counsellor

The Mental Health Unit at the hospital