Tell Me About It

I don’t want my mentally ill husband back in the house

I feel really bad for thinking this, but looking after him as well as working and looking after our child feels like too much

PROBLEM: When I met my husband he was a very laid-back, carefree man. For the first five years of our relationship we had a great time. I had always known that there were problems in his family: his mum was always odd, sometimes very personable and sometimes very distant and saying strange things. His sister was in and out of hospital with an eating disorder. All through the early years I supported him in dealing with his family. We got married and both got promotions at work, and it looked like it was going to be plain sailing. But then, after the birth of our first child, he began to change: not sleeping and wandering around the house all night, getting suddenly angry and being really paranoid. He stopped going to work, and I was afraid to leave him alone with the baby. He is now in hospital, and, for the first time in over a year, I can sleep without worry. I don’t know how long he will be in hospital but I am dreading him coming home. I feel really bad for thinking this but I think I want him to leave. I can cope with work and the baby, but looking after him as well feels like too much and I am worried that I too will have a breakdown.

ADVICE: Living with someone with mental health difficulties is really difficult, and it sounds as if your past couple of years have been very trying. It also sounds like you are frightened of what is going on and for the safety of your baby. All this is very understandable, but it may be that you need more time and advice before making such a huge decision as asking your husband to leave.

The hospital and mental health services will work with your husband on a number of levels: there will be a medical and psychiatric assessment, and this will be backed up by psychological and emotional care that will continue after his return home. Most services will involve you in his treatment and will be very conscious of your vulnerability when he comes home. It sounds like his family of origin have experience of mental health issues and perhaps they could be involved in his aftercare and could give you more space to consider things.

The man you loved has not disappeared, but it may take time and treatment for him to emerge from his difficulties. With knowledge, education, support and love, there is a very good chance he will return to work and his life with capacity and self-assurance.

The time needed to judge the situation accurately will be longer than you think, and some patience and faith is required to allow the interventions to work. Both your needs and your husband’s needs call for equal footing, and this might mean a phased return home for him to allow you to feel safe. However, your husband could be doubly traumatised by the possibility of losing his wife and child on top of his mental health problems. Having a child to engage with is a wonderful things in a person’s life: the child has no judgments and the adult is free to play and be themselves without fear. For you, this engagement may need monitoring initially, but the father-child relationship could play a large part in your husband’s recovery.

The most important thing for you now is to get support for yourself so that you might trust your decisions and ensure your sense of safety. Most workplaces have an employee assistance programme where you are offered up to six confidential counselling sessions, and this might be a good time to avail of this. Many of the mental health support organisations also offer support: visit the website Mentalhealthireland.ie for information and resources. Your stress with work and the need to hold everything and everyone together has taken its toll, and you need to focus your resources on finding your own equilibrium. This may mean taking time off from work, spending time with good friends and allowing other people to rally around you. It often happens that the partner of the unwell person presents with symptoms of depression and exhaustion, and this can leave the family without capacity.

It is not selfish to focus on your own wellbeing; it is necessary and intelligent to bring yourself to full wellness in order to deal with the workplace, finances, childcare and so on. When both you and your husband are in a position to talk without trepidation, you will need to look at the relationship, and it might be advisable to have that conversation with a counsellor or psychotherapist. Allow yourself time to let things unfold first.