SUPPORT: Mental health can lead to divorce if not managed.

When your partner is diagnosed with a mental illness, it can have significant effects on the relationship, emotionally, and often the negative effects of mental issues can lead to separation.


Yalandi Haart, 31, of Cape Town, was diagnosed with bipolar dis- order - a condition that affects about 2 million South Africans.

She says living with this condition has been hard on her relationships, particularly the one she has with her ex-husband.

“I started having mood swings every day. One minute I was happy, and the next minute I was in tears over a small thing. So my husband couldn’t understand me, and I didn’t blame him,” said Haart.

It’s only when she started getting treatment to manage the condition that she was able to relate with other people and manage the condition.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), bipolar disorder is a physical illness marked by extreme changes in mood, energy and behaviour. That’s why doctors classify it as a mood disorder.

It is also known as manic-depressive illness - a mental illness involving episodes of serious mania and depression.

The person’s mood usually swings from overly high and irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, with periods of normal mood in between.

This disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. It is often not recognised as an illness, and people who have it may suffer needlessly for years or even decades, explains Sadag.

Mental health is in the spotlight this month as the country observes Mental Health Awareness Month - dedicated to global awareness of the impact of mental issues.

Many celebrities, such as TV personalty Bonnie Mbuli and child star Sade Giliberti, have been coming out and sharing their daily battles with mental illness in the hope of spreading awareness.

Professor Bernard Janse van Rensburg, the president of the South African Society of Psychiatrists, said mental illness in a relationship and a family can require a significant amount of commitment and maybe ongoing and longer-term step-by-step and day-to-day dealing with matters as they may develop.

It may require a reorientation of priorities and setting new and different goals to achieve; perhaps, settling back into one’s roles after treatment. Couples should also continue to focus on the things that bring meaning to life and the relationship.

How do you cope with a partner with a mental health problem? Van Rensburg said the support of a partner with a mental health problem was vital for that person, but did present very specific challenges to the supporting partner.

“Firstly, it may be a matter of identifying the problem and moving through the process of agreeing that there is actually a reason to find some help on a particular issue,” said Van Rensburg.

In the early stages, people often ask whether it will be better to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Van Rensburg said often it may be a good idea to consult with the family’s general practitioner first. The next step would be to identify the resources available to the partner, which begins with whether medical aid cover is available. An appointment for assessment may have to be secured, whether private or public.

When it comes to lifestyle changes, Van Rensburg recommends general lifestyle principles, such as healthy eating, proper sleep, exercise, self-awareness and the development of mindfulness.

Also, take personal free time to reflect as well as joint family or partners’ time spent together, conscious breaks from work commitments or planned holidays.