What do we mean when we say someone is normal? Who is a normal person? According to the most dictionaries, normal is explained as “being usual, typical, or standard”.  Anything that is more common in our societies are deemed to be normal. Because of this, anything uncommon is known to be abnormal, and unfortunately many people see abnormal things to be wrong, which is not the case. The fact that something is uncommon doesn’t make it wrong, and the fact that something is common doesn’t make it right.

Mental illnesses, like other recurrent illnesses like cancer, are not common. They are uncommon, and due to that the society discriminates a lot against such illnesses; mental illnesses in particular. And this is just because people do not understand these illnesses, and most people either haven’t come across it because it’s uncommon, or they prefer to be ignorant about it rather than learning about it.

What is a mental illness? A mental illness is a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behavior and thinking. There are so many mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Clinical Depression, Bipolar Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychosis, Bulimia, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, amongst others. These illnesses affect a persons thoughts, actions, and behavior, and makes life very difficult to manage like a normal person would. Most people with these mental illnesses will need therapy and/or medications to be stable enough to work and study like the normal person can.

Let me share some experiences with you.

Imagine you have been to the doctors several times due to some symptoms you don’t understand. You realize you lost all the hope you had to live, you suddenly feel so low and dark and you drown yourself in a drug, could be cigarettes, could be alcohol, anything that distracts your mind for a while, and eventually it begins to affect your work or your studies. You’re asked to stop the drugs and then you realize it has become an addiction. This low feeling also seems to have come to stay and you just cant shake it away. Some people begin to hear voices in their head, well they think they actually hear someone but its all in their head. For other people they can’t shake away the negative thoughts that constantly push them to do negative things. Work or studies is affected, and now everything is falling apart for a reason you don’t even understand yourself.

You’re advised to visit the doctors’ for a therapy appointment, and you’re given a schedule like once or twice a week or month visit to the doctors. Finally one day you visit your doctor and he’s in there with a senior doctor smiling at you. You’re offered a seat, and then they tell you: “Darling, we have realized you’re experiencing all you have because of a condition called blah blah, let’s say Bipolar Depression. It’s not curable, but we can put you on some medications that can stabilize your moods, alongside constant therapy sessions.” Sometimes at worst if unlucky your diagnosis will even be more than one mental disorders. The doctors who are aware start calling you names like “darling”, “dear”, “sweetheart”, etc., to make you feel better.

Funny thing is that with physical illnesses once you’re diagnosed you begin to get love from friends, family, work or school colleagues, etc. Literally everyone sympathizes with you.

That is not the case with mental illnesses. Mental illnesses rather attracts mixed feelings from family and friends, and in very common yet unfortunate cases, discrimination and stigmatization, even in school or at the workplace.

Through regular therapy sessions family or partners can understand mental illnesses and make life easier for them, since support is all a person with mental illness needs, constant support all their life. A supportive partner and/ or family is all everyone needs. However the worst part is having an non-supportive family or partner, a family or partner who do not understand a person’s mental disorder can make things very difficult for the person, even to the point of suicide, which is very common in people with untreated mental illnesses.

For instance, a mental illness like clinical depression, bipolar depression, and borderline personality disorder, affects how a person thinks, acts and reacts to situations around them. When someone like this is expected by their partners or family and society to act normal and be normal, all that will happen is that either the person will be shunned or made to feel bad or worse because their actions will always be misinterpreted, or people will be pushed away from them every time. These can always end up in worse case scenarios like wishing you were dead, self-harming behaviors and addictions, absolute insanity, or even suicide being the worst of it all.

Blaming someone with a mental disorder for their actions or awkward reactions to some situation is like blaming someone with cancer for their loss of hair which is uncontrollable. No one should be blamed for the symptoms of an illness they have. That’s a very toxic behavior.

Now this is what a lot of people with mental illnesses are going through. From school to the society at large. Most societies view mental disorders negatively, and that makes life difficult, but fortunately when you find yourself in a supportive family, you’ll have a loving partner and family to support you and understand you.

Unfortunately for some people however, they live and manage their lives and disorders on their own, without support from anyone. And as if that’s not enough, such non-supportive partners or family make their symptoms worse by downplaying on their illnesses and making them feel responsible for their disorders and symptoms.

Knowing this, let’s find out how to be supportive to a partner or a person with a mental health disorder.

Ways to Support a Partner/ Family Member with Mental Illness

  1. Educate yourself on your partner’s (their) mental illness.
  2. Don’t use hurtful labels.
  3. Ask them questions about how they feel, their thoughts, etc.
  4. Promote routine in their day to day actions.
  5. Learn their symptoms.
  6. Don’t try to fix them (most mental disorders are manageable not curable).
  7. Be patient and understanding.
  8. Ensure they get regular help and don’t reject their medications and therapy.
  9. Don’t ignore your own needs too, let your partner know everything.
  10. Understand and recognize that how your partner feels and acts are symptoms not reality.
  11. Read more on your partner or family member’s disorder and ask questions about it
  12. Finding your own language to help understand each other

I decided to write about this topic because of a recent experience I’ve witnessed where a partner diagnosed with both Bipolar Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder is getting worse over time and feels so alone and brokenhearted because her partner keeps blaming her for her actions and reactions to conditions they’ve been facing, which is slowly killing her inside. It’s high time we put a stop to this. My advice; if you are not willing to understand someone’s mental illness, please don’t treat them in a way that could affect them, leave them alone and go mind your business. Don’t play with people’s lives as a means to satisfy your own selfish desires.

And to anyone with any mental illness, please hang in there. You are loved my dear. Let go of any toxic person in your life before they cause you any harm. Seek medical attention immediately. If you are already on medications stick to them, it doesn’t matter if you have to take them forever, so long as they keep you stable and alive and able to pursue your studies and work well.

You have all my support.

By Jill Boafo