“Including Your Spouse in Your Mental Health,” Ensign, September 2020
Including Your Spouse in Your Mental Health
If someone in a marriage has mental illness, what can a spouse do to help?
The month before I got married, I gradually stopped taking medication for anxiety and depression. I’d been working hard with therapists and reading about mental health, and I was feeling great. But about a month after we were married, my husband was called away for five months of military service. Despite all of my hard work, I hit an all-time low.
I was hardly ever able to feel calm, and my mind focused on worst-case scenarios constantly. I cried a lot and felt too tired to do things that would help cheer me up. What scared me the most, though, were the recurring thoughts that I wouldn’t be able to make it through life feeling like this all the time. And, unlike before, my mental health struggles didn’t just affect me—they affected my husband too. He is not a “worrier” like I am, but he was worried about me. I was terrified I was hurting him.
That got me thinking: if someone in a marriage has mental illness, what can a spouse do to help?
This article represents some of the answers I’ve discovered along my personal journey to healing. I found it helpful to think about how mental illness affects four different areas of a person’s life—physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. Then I considered how someone could involve their spouse as they worked toward healing in each of these areas. If this seems overwhelming at first, remember that you only need to work on one area at a time. Celebrate each small step taken, realizing you will have your own journey to healing.
Our bodies and minds are very connected. As the scriptures teach, “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15). We can heal physically by getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthily, and, if needed, taking medication. If one area of your physical health is lacking, it might be time to make some adjustments to your schedule.
My husband was extremely helpful in this area of life. While we were dating, I had a couple of homework-heavy semesters in college. I was very stressed about these assignments, but I was also worried about spending enough time with him. So I stayed up hours after our dates to finish everything. When he found out about this, he started helping me make homework a priority earlier so I could get enough sleep. Sometimes our “dates” became him keeping me company while I did schoolwork. As I got more sleep, both my depression and my anxiety levels improved.
If you choose physical goals to improve your mental health, let your spouse in on your plan. Talk to them about ways they can support you. Perhaps you could even tackle a physical health challenge together!
Common ideas for improving emotional health include spending time in nature, writing in a journal, and going to therapy. Let’s talk about therapy for a moment. I know some people with anxiety or depression who say they would rather keep their emotions to themselves or talk with a friend instead of seeing a therapist.
Although talking with someone you love is important in healing, we often need to learn and practice new emotional skills as part of our journey. And that’s where professional therapists are important. Just as it would be extremely difficult to learn a new sport or instrument without a coach, sometimes you need a pro to teach you and help you develop mental health skills.1 If you’re concerned about the cost of therapy, reach out to your bishop. He can help you connect with Family Services or other resources in your area.
As my husband and I searched together to find solutions to my mental health struggles, we were led to professionals who helped us find peace. At first, telling my husband I needed therapy took me out of my comfort zone because I didn’t want him to know how weak I felt.
But over time I realized that being vulnerable about my feelings was actually a sign of strength. As I was open with him, he learned to understand me and connect with me better emotionally. We were able to search for healing together and become closer through discussing my emotional needs. Now I believe that this is part of what it means to “be one” (Genesis 2:24).
Sometimes when depression and anxiety are hitting me hard, the one thing that would help me find relief is the one thing I don’t feel like doing. This is often the case with social healing. It can feel exhausting to look outward and help another person when you feel like you’re barely making it through the day. But the invitation to connect and “be ye kind one to another” (Ephesians 4:32) really is a major key to happiness.
A study from 2010 states that one reason quality friendships are associated with happiness is because friends help each other meet basic needs.2 When this happens, both people find purpose and increased self-esteem.3 My husband and I have found joy in serving others and getting together with friends, even when I don’t feel like it. When it is difficult or I don’t want to be social, he encourages me, reminding me that it helps me feel more positive. Connection makes my anxiety and depression less daunting.
While my husband and I were apart because of his military assignments, I found myself hungrier than ever for spiritual connection. Come, Follow Me became a lifeline of support for me and my husband. I would study the materials and send him the notes I had written down that week. This helped us feel more connected to each other and also more connected to the Savior. It gave us feelings of peace that were otherwise hard to come by at that time.
Now that my husband is home, we still try to connect our marriage to the Savior. Every night he reads scriptures out loud, which helps the worries of the day shift out of my mind. We often go to the temple together, which gives us feelings of gratitude for our covenants and for God’s sustaining power.
I recently read interesting research about the benefits of religious activity.4 These studies indicate that practicing religion with others and nurturing internal spiritual beliefs (you need both) can help improve mental health. The idea is that spirituality provides each one of us with an internal support system—helping us face challenges with faith, inviting feelings of peace, encouraging forgiveness, and connecting us with resources during difficult times. Holy habits can help us find “a more excellent hope” (Ether 12:32).
On the Front Lines Together
My battle with mental illness isn’t over. But I’m so grateful my husband has joined me on the front lines. He helps me do things I struggle to do on my own, and I offer him the same support. It is a relief that I don’t feel the need to hide my mental health struggles from him. By allowing each other to see our real feelings, we are able to find solutions together and draw closer to the Savior. If you are searching for mental healing, prayerfully consider how you can involve your spouse. Although this honesty and vulnerability may seem scary at first, it may end up making your eternal relationship stronger than ever.