How to Recognize and Respond to Mental Health Situations with Significant Others

How to Recognize and Respond to Mental Health Situations with Significant Others

In March, we recognized the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted families and employees. In a 2020 survey conducted by Universal Health Services, the parent company of The BridgeWay, 62% of American adults reported increased stress, anxiety, or depression.

One of the trends associated with the pandemic is that not all relationships survived lockdown. In the face of COVID-19, the frustrations couples usually express in counseling sessions — such as financial worries, division of chores, intimacy or a lack thereof, and conflicting views on childrearing — were taking a severe turn. For those with a mental illness, spousal lockdown can be painful, as routines are disrupted, and irritations fester over how one or the other partner eats, breathes, sleeps, and generally goes about their business. While some of those habits may be temporary, others may be cause for concern.

Here are 11 signs that your significant other may be experiencing a mental health issue that may need to be addressed.

1. They Seem to Get Mad Easily

While everyone's entitled to the occasional bad mood, it's never a good sign if your partner has been blowing up in fits of rage. A sign of depression is that everything and everyone quickly annoys them. If your partner is suddenly road-raging, take note.

2. They've Been Feeling Tired Lately

Long hours aside, you should check in with your partner if they're suddenly going to bed super early. The same goes for a partner who never goes to bed. Emerging mental health concerns will often drive people to desire a lot more sleep or the opposite, and they can't stay in bed. Either way, a change in sleep patterns could be a sign of a problem.

3. He or She Is Suddenly Forgetful

If your partner's been "out of it" lately, it could be due to their unaddressed (or ignored) inner turmoil. What seems like sudden onset of forgetfulness can be a sign of struggling with stable mental health. An organized person may find themselves missing deadlines, forgetting to pick up kids on time, and seeing other adult-life duties becoming messy and disorganized.

4. They Seem To Be Drinking More Often

While it might be acceptable to have the occasional drink, take care of a partner who seems to be turning to alcohol (or other coping mechanisms) on a more regular basis. Many people with mental health issues have learned various ways to cope with their symptoms. Individuals with anxiety or depression, for example, realize that something is off but choose to medicate their symptoms rather than address them.

5. They Aren't Interested in Physical Intimacy

Since issues like depression and anxiety can steal one's energy and ruin self-esteem, don't be surprised if an ailing partner doesn't want to be physically intimate. This behavior may be one of many signs your partner isn't feeling quite like themselves.

6. They're Complaining About Not Feeling Well

Mental health issues often take a physical toll, so pay attention to a partner who can't seem to stop complaining. Believe in the mind-body connection. When something is depressing someone, they won't admit that they are depressed or stressed; eventually, their bodies start giving out. They may complain about headaches, stomachaches, or a constant feeling of fatigue.

7. He or She Doesn't Want to Shower or Do Laundry

Everyone's needs are different, so it's all right if your partner doesn't shower every day or if they go a week without washing their hair. Do take note, however, if their life is suddenly all sorts of dirty. People with depression can sometimes neglect self-care: not showering or brushing teeth, wearing the same clothes several days in a row. They may also forget to do laundry or stop cleaning their home.

8. They Won't Answer Their Phone

Someone who's struggling with a mental health issue, like depression, may not have the energy to make plans to hang out, much less get up to answer their phone. If this is your partner, they may also start to isolate themselves. And that's not healthy.

9. You Can't Predict Their Moods

Again, it's normal to have some mood swings throughout the day. But it's not so typical if you can't predict your partner's moods or if they're genuinely extreme. Mood swings between high and low that cannot be accounted for by life getting better or worse may indicate Bipolar Disorder. This one can genuinely impact your relationship, so the sooner you can both seek help, the better.

10. They Don't Seem Present

When hanging out with your partner, do you feel like they're fully present? If not, they could be in their head overthinking a problem, which is common when struggling with mental health issues. They may be ruminating or be hyper-focused on a topic that is out of their control.

Soon, they will not be able to be present with you and may not focus on conversation or activity.

11. They Don't Want to Talk About the Future

If your partner is dealing with depression, they may not gather the energy to think about the future. If that seems to be the case, check in with them. Ask your partner about their goals. If they don't have any or don't seem to care about their future, this may be a sign of mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.

If you notice any of these signs, gently point them out to your partner and find ways to be as empathetic as possible.

How to Get Help

Here are two ways to get help for someone considering suicide:

• Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential. Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend's social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency. Learn more on Lifeline's website or the Crisis Text Line's website.

• The Veterans Crisis Line connects Service members and Veterans in crisis and their family members and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veteran's Affairs (V.A.) responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text messaging service. Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone or send a text message to 838255 to connect with a V.A. responder. You can also start a confidential online chat session at

Recognizing your relationship's impact is essential, but it's just the first step to finding the strategies that will help your relationship become a robust and safe place. Remember that helping a partner with a mental health issue can be stressful, so make sure you take care of yourself, too.

Bruce Trimble, MA, APR, is the director of business development for The BridgeWay Hospital, a psychiatric facility for children, adolescents and adults in North Little Rock. An avid mental health advocate, Trimble was appointed by the governor of Arkansas to the Arkansas Suicide Prevention Council in 2015 and served as co-chair from 2015 to 2017. In 2018, he was instrumental in establishing the call center for the Arkansas Suicide Prevention Hotline.