How to Support Your Partner’s Mental Health Without Losing Yourself

So, your partner has opened up to you about their mental health. Maybe they’ve been feeling down and detached for a few months, or they’ve struggled with a diagnosed disorder for a while now. Whatever their situation may be, you’re probably wondering how you can help them on their journey to recovery. Fortunately for all of us, there are plenty of resources and advice out there to guide you through the process and keep your relationship healthy. Start with these six proven tips to empower your partner to get better while taking care of yourself.

  1. 1. Encourage them to go to therapy 

    Woman in therapy

    This is the first and most important step. While there are plenty of ways to support your partner, getting them professional help is vital. Just like people with a physical illness go to the doctor, anyone struggling with their mental health should seek medical attention. Not only will your partner benefit from treatment, but you can also clarify with the therapist what your role in your partner’s plan should involve and learn how to communicate well. Asking for help can be overwhelming, so if making an appointment feels daunting to your partner, stay in the room with them when they call the therapist’s office and accompany them to their first session. If your partner is worried about financing therapy, there are plenty of free state programs — and your college may also offer students free therapy. 

    Laura*, a student at Boston University, said that you shouldn’t bear the responsibilities of a mental health professional for your partner.

    “It’s important to remember that you cannot fill the role of a therapist,” she says. “You can support them as best as you can and be there for them, but it is not fair to you to act as their therapist.”

    Anna, a student at Sciences Po Paris, says giving too much in the relationship is dangerous, as it can take a significant toll on your own mental health. She recommends being honest with your partner about how you’re feeling and not walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting them.

    “If you have to give too much, it might just drain you,” she says. “It’s okay to be frustrated and voice that; that’s part of any relationship.”

    “If you don’t, it’s just going to be you helping them — and you need to be equal in the relationship,” she adds.

  2. 2. Research to understand their diagnosis and find helpful support tactics 

    Couple reading together

    Mental illness is often invisible, so it’s crucial to figure out what symptoms your partner may be experiencing and how best to address them. For example, if your partner lives with depression, it may be helpful to remind them of their strengths, plan fun activities to look forward to, and help them identify what went well at the end of the day. But if your partner is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, they could probably use a practical plan to address their concerns — like what to do if they miss the last bus or how to finish the semester strong if they were to fail the exam as they fear. Your partner will be grateful they don’t have to explain what they’re going through. 

    Check out books, blogs, websites, and subreddits to hear from mental health professionals and people with mental illness. But don’t forget that at the end of the day, everyone’s experience is different, so the golden rule is to listen to your partner — it’ll help you understand what their unique needs are.

    “I’ve been in a relationship while dealing with a mental illness, and I know that it can be very hard for both sides,” Laura says. “The best thing you can do is to just be there for your partner. Even if it’s just sitting with them or listening while they talk, it can make a big difference. Communication and honesty are also very important.”

  3. 3. Practice self-care, lean on your support system, and get therapy for yourself

    Couple holding hands

    Supporting a partner with mental illness can become taxing if you abandon your self-care routine or forget to implement one in the first place. It’s essential to tend to your own needs, keep exploring your passions, eat well, sleep enough, and exercise regularly. Take time to unwind and recharge — go on a walk, head to the movie theater, read a good book, meditate — and consider getting therapy for yourself as you navigate the challenges of dating someone with mental illness.

    Nazly Ramadan, a student at Boston University, says it can be difficult to know that the person you love doesn’t see themselves the same way you do, and taking time for self-care can help alleviate some of these feelings or cope with them better.

    “If you love someone, it hurts to see them hurting,” she says. “Sometimes the anxiety can affect you too, and make you anxious. Take special time to do things that improve your mental health — whatever self-care means to you, not only face masks and baths.”

    Laura said that doing self-care helps ensure you are able to help your partner in the long run.

    “It’s essential to make sure that you are okay first and foremost,” she says. “If you are not taking care of yourself, it is really hard to help others.”

  4. 4. Remind your partner of their strengths

    Couple kissing on forehead in bed

    Mental illness has a special way of leaving you feeling defenseless and depleted of energy. It can be difficult for people with a mental illness to remember how resilient and amazing they are. 

    Compliments can help boost your partner’s confidence regardless of their mental state, but they’re especially helpful when their self-esteem is low. 

    “It’s important to reassure your partner that you care about them, whether verbally or through behavior because mental illness can make you feel isolated or like a burden,” Laura says.

    Remind your partner of their qualities — whether emotional, intellectual, or physical. Tell them how great they’re doing by pointing to what is going well because of actions they’ve taken and efforts they’ve made. For instance, if your partner has been struggling to hand in missing assignments and ends up submitting one, congratulate them and offer to celebrate the occasion with a sweet treat or an afternoon in the park. If your partner’s not feeling comfortable in their skin, pay attention to their new outfit or give them a compliment on their hairstyle. A confidence boost can go a long way in making your partner feel in charge of their wellbeing and life. 

    In addition, avoid getting hung up on labels that carry significant weight and negative connotations — don’t refer to your partner as “anxious” or “depressed.” Although your partner’s mental illness may have very real consequences on their mood and behavior, your partner is not their mental illness and it is crucial to show them that they are still the person you fell for.

  5. 5. Pick up healthy habits together

    Couple cooking together

    It’s easier to start something together than alone, so offer to pick up healthy habits with your partner. Try going on weekly runs together and prepare nutritious meals at home to get used to caring for yourselves! Not only will it help to make the activity less overwhelming for your partner, it’s also a great way to spend quality time together.

  6. 6. Don’t make their journey to recovery the sole focus of your relationship

    Couple playing guitar together

    Mental illness can easily consume your relationship, so be adamant about not letting it take up all of the space in your conversations. Work on other aspects of your relationship, spend quality time together, go on dates, and show your appreciation and admiration for your partner. Stay playful, mysterious, and loving. You’ve got this.

Remember, it’s not your responsibility to fix your partner. Only they are responsible for their own progress, but you can support and empower them as they learn strategies to cope. It’s important to set up boundaries to avoid codependency — when you and your partner can’t function on your own and your thinking and behavior are instead organized around each other. Make it a point to honor your own needs. You want to be patient with your partner but recognize that your needs should be met for the relationship to continue.

*Name has been changed.