Family mental health: Caring for the mental health of couples!
The concept of family refers to several models and the combinations are increasingly varied: a mother and her child, a father and his children, a couple with children… Different structures yes, but they all represent the concept of family. In fact, while the image of family is evolving, one thing remains constant: family is the “space” where individuals begin their education, establish their moral values and become aware of love and life. It is a structure in which the parents act as role models by fostering bonds of support and solidarity.
Pay attention to your well-being
As a family, you face the uncertainties of life together and, in this sense, must be attentive to the health of all members. It has been shown that any major change, whether positive or negative, can destabilize and upset a family’s balance. When mental illness affects a family member, many feelings arise, including anger, guilt and helplessness. Additionally, stress can cause sleep disturbances and make family members constantly irritable.
Only recently have studies begun focusing on the concept of family burden. One such study (Provencher, Perreault, St-Onge & Vandal, 2001) revealed that the proportion of family caregivers who experience high levels of emotional distress is three times higher than that found in the general population.
Inevitably, the health of your couple can be impacted heavily. Daily clashes and conflicts can intensify to the point where physical, psychological and social consequences including fatigue, sleep disorders, loss of contact with friends, absenteeism from work, etc. can overwhelm the relationship.
Partners can feel trapped or isolated in a situation that they did not choose and for which they do not see an end. Parents feel responsible and guilty and often blame themselves for not supporting the person with the mental illness sufficiently. Life as a couple no longer exists, dialogue is broken and moments of intimacy disappear.
What to do to avoid the worst
Right from the get-go, it is important to remember that relationships are dynamic, not static. Disagreements are part of reality and in some ways essential. Furthermore, women and men react differently to stress. Women of all ages and economic backgrounds often have to balance work, family duties and supporting a loved one in need of care. The physical and mental strain of trying to balance it all can lead to exhaustion. Men, on the other hand, experience a greater sense of failure and seek to maintain control and invest in finding solutions.
There are no easy situations. However, the key to success is asking for help. Breaking this isolation is essential to de-escalating the situation, without denying it. Conflicts within couples are useful, since they force partners to be attentive to each other. In this respect, it is essential that the couple re-establish a dialogue, since this is the means by which partners overcome the distance that separates them. The channel of communication must be restored, as silence does not make the suffering disappear. On the contrary, it makes it worse.
Reclaiming your life and your relationship
Many couples, mothers and fathers of a child with a mental illness attest to the well-being that they felt when they decided to seek help.
“We learned how to develop our strengths and how to use them. Our relationship with our son has improved, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have concerns. We have learned to give him his space and take ours.” – Jeannine
They have reclaimed and taken charge of their lives, while still developing tools and coping strategies specific to their living environment. This approach allows couples to develop a positive attitude toward their support situation and a healthier family environment. Accompanying a person with a mental illness has its difficulties, but we should not forget that it also provides us with feelings of satisfaction related to personal growth and the affection we feel for the person with the illness.
All loved ones, including partners, develop resilience, which is the individual’s ability to bounce back from adversity and take advantage of life’s circumstances. Seeking help from one of Réseau Avant de Craquer’s member affiliates allows family and friends to understand the situation and bounce back from stress in a proactive rather than passive way. One thing is true : the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship as a couple is the cornerstone of good mental health in families!