Therapist Shannon Thomas says, "Most partners recognize changes in their loved one quicker than anyone else in the partner's life,” so if you start noticing your spouse is acting differently, it’s important to consider the possibility of an underlying mental health problem.
Signs of a Possible Untreated Mental Illness
- They seem to get angry or frustrated more easily. If your usually laid-back spouse starts getting irritated over minor issues, this may be a sign of depression or anxiety.
- Their sleep schedule changes. Many common mental illnesses can cause people to either sleep much more than usual, or cause them to have difficulty sleeping.
- They may seem “spacey.” Thomas says, “Someone who once was organized may find themselves missing deadlines, forgetting to pick up kids on time, and seeing other adult-life duties becoming really messy and disorganized."
- They have unexplained aches or pains. Mental illnesses can take a physical toll. People may frequently complain of headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, or a loss of appetite.
- Their personal hygiene is suffering. Licensed social worker Patti Sabla says, "People with depression can sometimes neglect self-care: not showering or brushing teeth, or wearing the same clothes several days in a row.” Feelings of hopelessness or exhaustion can make everyday tasks difficult for people with a mental illness.
- They’re reluctant to talk about future goals. This is especially common for people with depression and anxiety. If your spouse has given up on something they used to be passionate about or doesn’t seem to care about their future, make sure to check in with them.
Encourage Them to Be Honest and to Seek Help
If your spouse gets a professional diagnosis from their doctor, they may start taking medications or begin looking for therapists. Remember that although these treatments are often very helpful, your spouse may not start feeling better for weeks, or they might need to try different psychiatric medications before finding one that helps. Encourage your spouse to be patient until they find something that works for them.
Do Your Research
Mental illnesses can often be misunderstood and symptoms may be mistaken for other conditions. For example, studies show that girls are often diagnosed with anxiety or depression when they’re really struggling with ADHD. Depression can sometimes be hard to distinguish from bipolar disorder. For these reasons, it would be best for you to encourage your spouse to seek a diagnosis from a doctor so you understand the reasons behind their behavior and learn how to help them.
How You Can Help
- Be empathetic. Avoid telling your spouse to “just try harder,” or “it could be worse.”
- Don’t take symptoms personally. Imagine that your spouse has the flu. You wouldn’t be upset if they have a fever because it’s part of the illness! The same goes for mental health; if your spouse has depression, don’t blame yourself if they express feeling hopeless.
- Take care of yourself. Staying physically healthy and setting boundaries will help you help your spouse. You might even want to see a therapist yourself to express frustrations and concerns, and to get professional advice.