Dr Winwood says that your boyfriend or husband or generally any male, could act out of character, or display a range of varying emotions:
‘It could be anger, irritability and aggressiveness, or they could struggle to show or feel positive emotions.
‘They might lose their appetite, lack energy and either struggle to sleep or sleep too much. Due partly to this, they may experience difficulty concentrating, act restless or on edge.
‘They may show deep sadness or hopelessness that hints at suicidal thoughts. They might adopt unhealthy habits, like turning to alcohol or smoking.
‘Besides emotional side-effects, mental illness can manifest physically, in the form of headaches, digestive issues and discomfort.’
How to help
With such a sensitive subject, that most men don’t want to broach, Winwood explains:
‘It’s important to generate open, relaxed conversation with your partner. Follow his lead, if he’s receptive and willing to speak frankly about how he’s feeling, listen and reassure him that he’s not alone.
‘On a bad day he might act frustrated and defensive; this may be hurtful but try not to take it to heart. Don’t push him, as this could spark an argument and worsen feelings on both sides. Instead, give him space and be there when he’s ready.
‘Being with someone experiencing mental ill health can be draining and frustrating but try not to inadvertently increase their feelings of isolation by venting your own frustrations.
‘Reminding them that you love them and that you are willing to help may give them the feeling of support they need to start taking some positive steps.’
Show them that you care
Winwood advises that you need to understand that your partner may feel embarrassed, and therefore act defensively.
‘The ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality comes into play here. If you try to raise the topic with them, make it clear that you don’t hold them responsible for their mood or behaviour.
‘Show your support and reassure them that their situation will improve. Many people do want a chance to talk but don’t want to burden anyone around them. Just show that you care.’
What NOT to say
‘Never tell them to “get over it”. You would never say to someone with a broken leg “just walk on it”. Just because we can’t see poor mental health, doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering,’ Winwood warns.
‘Whilst that may seem a harsh example, sometimes our words can be misconstrued – even if we mean well. For example, ‘I know exactly what you’re going through’.
‘Likening what they’re experiencing with a time you felt down yourself might be perceived to be trivialising their situation and could be counterproductive – especially if you’ve never had a mental health disorder.
‘Mental illness is indiscriminate, regardless of success, so never say “I don’t understand why you’re upset” or “you have nothing to worry about.” Whether a partner, friend or a family member who’s affected, you should avoid making harsh statements and second guessing what they’re thinking or feeling.
How to support yourself
They effect of their mental health problems could also upset you or strain your relationship.
He says: ‘Whether you’re concerned that your boyfriend or husband may be suffering with a mental illness, or they’ve confided in you, supporting, caring for them and, at times, prioritising their needs over your own, can be draining and isolating.
‘Remember to take time for yourself. Lean on your own support networks outside of the relationship – family, friends and colleagues –arrange occasions to look forward to whilst your partner is at work or occupied with their own plans.
‘If you need to talk to someone neutral about how you’re feeling, charities such as the Samaritans have hotlines.