If you struggle with anxiety and depression, you’re not alone. One in five U.S. adults experience mental health issues at some point in their lives, and 10 million people live with a serious mental illness, according to NAMI. But while these conditions are becoming ever more common, that doesn’t make them any easier to navigate. If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s struggling, you might wonder how to broach a conversation with them about what they’re going through. Knowing how to talk to your partner about their mental health can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help you get started.
How to talk to your partner about their mental health
- Approach the topic with sensitivity. Talking about mental health isn’t a joke, nor is it a conversation everyone finds easy to have. It’s important that you appreciate how delicate this topic is and treat it with the sensitivity and care it requires. Bring a calm energy and do what you can to put them at ease.
- Express your concern. If you feel the need to talk to your partner about their mental health, there’s likely an issue. Maybe you’ve noticed they’ve been differently lately or they seem upset. While this could happen for a number of reasons, if you know they’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, that’s a likely culprit. Let your partner know that you’re worried about them and want to ensure they’re okay.
- Ask how you can best support them. If you want to be there for your partner, the best thing you can do is be attentive to their needs. You can’t know what those needs are unless you ask them. Everyone responds best to different forms of care and affection. You don’t want to smother them or do things that make their mental health worse. Ask what you can do to support them and take their response to heart.
- Validate their concerns. You don’t want them to feel silly or like they’re making a big deal out of nothing. Saying something like “I totally understand why you feel that way” or “All of that makes sense — I get it” can go a long way. No one wants to feel like they’re being unreasonable.
- Be empathetic. This is another important aspect to the talk you have with your partner about their mental health. Even if you’ve never been in their shoes, try to understand where they’re coming from. Extending empathy and sympathy for what they’re going through could alleviate the stress and upset of what they’re going through.
- Open up about your own struggles, if you have them. Nothing encourages vulnerability like someone else offering their own troubles up. If you’ve ever dealt with depression, anxiety, or personality disorders of any kind, be open to talking about it. Your partner will feel less alone and better understood knowing you’ve been there too.
- Understand your capabilities. Finally, it’s important that you know your limits. While you want to be supportive and help as much as you can, you’re their partner, not their therapist. Obviously, there are times when a mental health professional is the only person who can and should be involved. In fact, if your partner isn’t seeing one yet, it might be a good time to suggest it.
What not to do when discussing your partner’s mental health
- Avoid toxic positivity. Despite your attempt to make your partner feel better, pushing optimism isn’t the way to go. If dealing with anxiety and depression was was simple as telling yourself “it gets better,” no one would have mental health issues. Save the mantras and positive quotes for another time. This is not it.
- Don’t judge them or be condescending. If you’re lucky enough not to have experienced mental health issues, that doesn’t make you better than them. You don’t know more than them and you don’t have life all figured out. Acting as if you do is completely inappropriate. Moreover, it’s sure to make your partner shut down.
- Don’t offer advice unless they ask for it. As tempting as it may be, avoid giving suggestions or advice for ways your partner can deal with what they’re going through. Chances are, they’ve already heard it and have already tried it. While you may think you’re being helpful, you’re actually being a bit of a jerk.
- Don’t give them an ultimatum. When you talk to your partner about their mental health, it should be from a place of care. Don’t use the conversation as a way to give them an ultimatum. Don’t threaten to leave them if they don’t get over their issues or seek help. This will make them defensive and likely won’t end the way you want.
When is the right time to broach the topic?
- You’ve developed a sense of trust. You should never have a conversation about someone’s mental health if you haven’t already fostered a sense of trust between you. It’s necessary that you feel comfortable talking about something so important and personal with one another. If you’re not there yet, delay the chat.
- You’re in a committed or serious relationship. Again, this is not a talk you have with someone you just started dating. You don’t know them well enough and it’s not your place. Leave it alone. It’s not your business. It may become your business down the line, but it’s not right now.
- You know something is bothering them that they haven’t discussed. If your partner seems exceptionally anxious or depressed lately and their normal behavior has changed, it may be time to talk to them about their mental health. We all go through low moods sometimes, but if it’s sustained and/or extreme, it’s time to chat.
- You can tell they’re struggling and you’re worried about their well-being. If their behavior is becoming concerning and you’re worried about their state of mind, you need to talk to them. While they may not be receptive to the conversation, it’s important they know you’re aware and that you care. If you feel concerned that they may be suicidal or they’ve mentioned that they are, contact mental health professionals immediately.
If you or your partner are having suicidal thoughts, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).