Tell Me About It

I have noticed a number of worrying changes in my partner

Tell Me About It: When we met 11 years ago he had just been diagnosis with depression

PROBLEM: I am very concerned about my partner. I have been with him for almost 11 years and we have two small children. We both have very stressful but satisfying careers.

We met at a counselling group, where both of us were overcoming issues from our childhood. He had just received a diagnosis of depression and was on medication for a very short period of time. His mood lifted and the impact of both our traumas abated and we got on with our lives. In the past two months I have noted very subtle changes in his behaviour – he has started to drink more and stay out late at work parties and sporting events. I don’t really have an issue with this as I think it is good for him to relax.

But there are other worrying changes.

He has started to buy items for the house, which is completely uncharacteristic for him, and they are quite gaudy and very expensive. He has also started to plan holidays, something else he would never normally do, but the holidays that he is planning are very exotic and way outside of our budget. He also keeps changing the destination and it is hard to keep up with what he is thinking. I know his work is going well and I don’t know of any other issues that might be causing him to be stressed. But whilst he definitely doesn’t appear depressed, I can see similarities in his behaviour to when we met in group therapy.

I have spoken to members of our family, who haven’t noticed any differences in the way he acts. I have also spoken to him and he seems to be oblivious and has reassured me that everything is perfectly okay. I am sorry to say that I don’t believe this.

ADVICE: Your letter is very reassuring for anyone who has experienced mental health issues in the past: you and your partner have overcome past difficulties to become successful in both family life and in your careers. However, having a stressful job and two small children can be very demanding and cracks can appear in even the most stable of relationships and personalities.

For the most part, these cracks work themselves out and people manage to find equilibrium again if they get a decent break or regular sleep. You both also have a history of help seeking and this is a wonderful skill as you won’t let situations develop into something serious without noticing and taking action. You are now in that situation of noticing and your desire to tackle something in its early stages if possible.

What you are expressing concern about is a manic episode where someone can be grandiose or have exaggerated high emotions. This diagnosis needs to be conducted by a doctor or psychiatrist and your partner needs to be a participant if this is to happen, but he appears to be suggesting that you are over reacting. You say that your extended families do not notice any difference and this is worth taking into account, and now that you have alerted them, you might find there is more notice being taken of his behaviour.

However, in the current situation it would seem that it is your partner that needs to hear your concerns (again) and, as he has a background in mental health issues, he may be in a good position to take this on board. Can you frame your concerns in a manner where your partner is able to help you? For example, that you ask for his help, as you are worried. You might both come up with a list of behaviours that, from your past joint experiences you know might be triggers or early signs of distress. He may well site your anxiety as a trigger and you will need to accept this as you wish him to take on board the signs that you think are signifiers of his potential mental health issue.

Objective view

This means that you become self-aware of your own worries and thoughts and are prepared to consider that you might be creating a problem out of a sense of fear of the past repeating. Could you ask someone you trust to go over the situation with you so that you have an objective view on the situation?

You will know from your history that the more people involved the quicker the recovery

With some objectivity in your corner, you then need to talk openly and fearlessly with your partner. He may feel defensive and if you are to overcome this, he will need to feel that you are totally on his side and that you will work with him to face whatever life throws at you both.

However, if the characteristics you describe in your partner increase or become more pronounced, you may need to check with your GP and ask for their advice and help. You will know from your history that the more people involved the quicker the recovery – for example, involving a mental health professional, including the family or attending a group. GROW offers support and recovery for mental health issues and they might be of benefit to you at this time.