Desperately seeking help

Ron is struggling to help his wife with her mental health issue. He asks psychologist Dr Emmanuella Murray how he can help her and keep his sanity.


Q. Ron
My wife suffers from anxiety and, while she has had it under control for quite a while, it’s starting to get out of control again. I have tried to broach the subject, and we’ve had a few chats about it, but she seems stuck in a loop – nothing changes – and I can’t seem to snap her out of it. I’m not going anywhere – she’s my light – but it’s starting to get me down. It’s difficult to keep a smile on my face while there is such tension in our home. We are not wealthy and can’t really afford counselling. Can you give me some tips to help her? And me?

A. Dear Ron, I can hear how hard it is for you to see your wife feeling anxious, but the problem is the more you want to ‘snap her out of it’, the worse you will feel. Anxiety can interfere with how someone thinks, feels and behaves, so your lovely wife can’t just ‘snap out of it’.

I feel for you, Ron. It can be hard when a partner is anxious because they can be clingier and more dependent and they will often seek reassurance.

Irritability is also a symptom of anxiety, and chronic anxiety can also trigger depression. When you see tension, it’s important to understand it may still be anxiety or depression.

I think the fact you are wanting some guidance and that you’re ‘not going anywhere’ shows you are there for your wife, no matter what, and that’s beautiful.

Ron, how you respond to your wife is important. When you can see your wife is anxious, respond with empathy; for example, “I can see you’re feeling anxious, and it’s hard for you,” but avoid reassuring her or telling her she will be okay because this can make her anxiety much worse.

I’d encourage your wife to look at the following wonderful websites that have useful information about anxiety: Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute and the Centre for Clinical Interventions.

Perhaps this is something you could do together, to help you both have a better understanding of how to deal with anxiety.

I know you said therapy may not be an option, but I’d still encourage your wife to see her GP to be assessed properly. And given that anxiety can cause tension in a relationship, make sure you are devoting enough time to your own self-care. If you feel overwhelmed, it won’t help you or your wife.

Keep up that beautiful support, Ron!

Do you or a partner or friend suffer from anxiety? Have the organisations above been helpful?

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