When to Walk Away from Someone with Mental Illness

If you’re struggling to maintain a relationship with someone who has a mental health condition, you’re not alone. More than 50 million Americans were known to struggle with a mental illness in 2023. That number is likely much higher if you consider that many adults never report their mental struggles, and more than half of all adults with a diagnosed mental illness never seek mental health professional help and were not able to protect their own needs, own life, and well-being.

In fact, not admitting to a mental disorder like bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder and refusing to seek help from a mental healthcare professional or mental health treatment is a big factor in loved ones walking away from those with mental illness. If you’re at or close to your limit with someone suffering from a mental disorder, you’re likely questioning if it’s time to bring the relationship to a close.

It’s a tough decision that requires an incredible amount of strength and clarity of thought. We have some advice that may help you decide if that’s the right move for you at this point in the relationship, including the mental health services interventions.

SIGNS IT’S TIME TO WALK AWAY FROM A LOVED ONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS

There is no single sign that indicates you need to walk away from a relationship with someone who has a mental disorder. The circumstances of your relationship are unique, but the dilemma of loving someone with a mental illness is not.

The best you can do is tap into your gut instinct, consider the true reasons you feel this way, and then consider the top reasons that others have walked away from similar relationships. We’re going to walk you through that process right here and show you how to prioritize self-care and your own well-being, set boundaries–health boundaries and treatment options- so keep reading and do some deep thinking as we move along.

Step 1: Tap Into Your Gut Instincts

Stop for a moment and ask yourself one question, paying close attention to the thoughts that cross your mind immediately after:

“Is it time to walk away from this relationship?”

You know in your gut if you need to step away from the situation. It’s difficult to act on that gut instinct, and we’re not suggesting you do that at this moment. Just pay attention to those immediate thoughts.

Try saying out loud, “I’m going to end this relationship.” Do you feel a sense of relief? Do you break down crying with a broken heart? Pay attention to that feeling and proceed to the next step in this process.

Step 2: Get Honest with Yourself

It’s time to think about the specific reasons you feel it’s time to step away from this relationship. Here are some possible reasons to consider:

  • You’re emotionally exhausted
  • You feel physically threatened
  • You know you’re enabling bad behavior and don’t know how to stop
  • Your presence and support stops your loved one from seeking professional help
  • The relationship stops you from caring for yourself
  • The relationship is a distraction from your work and other responsibilities
  • Your loved one is refusing to help themselves and isn’t trying to get better

It may help to set a timer for 30 or 45 minutes and simply write about this issue. Allow your thoughts to pour onto the page with no censorship. No one has to ever see what you write. This process often allows buried thoughts and emotions to climb to the surface.

When you’re clear on at least some reasons you believe it’s time to walk away, move on to the next step in this process.

couples fight

Step 3: Consider the Most Common Reasons Others Walk Away

When is it time to walk away from a loved one with a mental illness? You’ve spent some time unraveling your own motivations. It’s now time to consider some of the reasons others have decided to end relationships with loved ones suffering from mental illness. How many of these resonate with you?

“The relationship is impacting my own mental health.”

If you’re starting to struggle with any of the following, perhaps it’s time to protect your own mental health:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Negative thinking

Relationships that involve mental illness are incredibly stressful. When emotional abuse is involved, you may even start to struggle with low self-confidence and fatigue. To stop the deterioration of your own mental health, you may need to find a way out of the relationship.

“This relationship is challenging my sobriety.”

The stress from your relationship may contribute to potential slips as you continue your own journey for sobriety. If your loved one also has an addiction, then they may offer you substances that directly challenge your sobriety. Saving yourself may require you to step away from the relationship.

“I feel unsafe, threatened, or have been physically harmed.”

If your loved one is physically abusive or threatens physical harm, it’s time to at least distance yourself as a form of protection. Sacrificing your own safety or putting your life on the line doesn’t make you brave or strong. You have the right and duty to protect yourself.

“This person is no longer safe around my children or other loved ones.”

Would you leave your children or an elderly parent alone with this person for a weekend? You may say no if you don’t trust your loved one to stay sober or fear they will slip into a destructive mental state. These concerns are glaring signs that your loved one is no longer safe in your life if you have the responsibility to protect others.

“Anger, bitterness, and resentment are overcoming my compassion and patience.”

Loving someone with a mental illness often requires self-sacrifice. Over time, that can start to eat away at your compassion and strength. You likely aren’t getting back as much as you’re putting into the relationship. The good times may no longer make up for the bad times. That’s when you may need to walk away to stop your own anger and resentment from making matters worse.

“I don’t see any way to create a happy, fulfilling future with this person in my life.”

Everyone deserves a bright, happy future filled with love, respect, and personal satisfaction. If a relationship is standing in the way of that, then it may not make sense to continue. If you have tried everything you know to do but still see no way to find happiness in this relationship, walking away may be the only option to build a good life for yourself.

Hopefully, this process has taken you closer to a decision on this matter. Let’s discuss the steps you should take if you decide walking away is in your best interests.

LEVELS OF WALKING AWAY

The term “walking away” brings the image of completely turning your back on someone, but it doesn’t have to play out that way. Accepting that it’s no longer safe or smart to continue the relationship as it stands today leaves you with a few options:

  • Keep them in your life, but at a distance. For instance, you may decide that you will continue the relationship with a parent who has a mental illness, but you will no longer live in the same house with them. The goal is to create some distance so that you can breathe easy while remaining available to some extent.
  • Continue to help through a barrier of protection. Maybe you provide food and financial support for a grown child with mental illness by passing items through a mutual friend or trusted relative. The goal is to provide some support without direct contact.
  • Cut all ties to your loved one. In other words, go “no contact.” This is the literal translation of walking away from someone with mental illness. It’s also the most heartbreaking option. Unfortunately, there may come a time when it is no longer safe, productive, or smart to continue the relationship, even from a distance or through a protective barrier.

You may need to move through these steps, gradually stepping away from a relationship that has a negative impact on your own mental health. Alternatively, you may know that your own mental and physical health require you to completely step away from the relationship at once.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER WALKING AWAY?

If you know it’s time to completely walk away, there are some things to keep in mind. For starters, you aren’t a bad person for walking away from someone who has a mental illness. You aren’t weak for not sticking it out. You aren’t selfish for thinking of yourself. There is no shame in protecting yourself, even if others are hurt in the process.

Also, remind yourself that walking away from a toxic situation is often the stimulus for positive change in a person with mental illness. When they lose a loved one, they have to face what their behavior is doing to those they love. It could be what turns someone you love in the direction of counseling, addiction treatment, or other forms of help.

Everyone Needs Someone to Talk To

Walking away from a loved one with mental illness is incredibly stressful. The process requires an extreme level of strength and can send you through a hurricane of raging emotion. The best thing you can do for yourself is seek help from a trained therapist.

As you walk away from the relationship, you can also recommend that your loved one seek help as well. If substance abuse is also an issue, ask them to seek treatment. Instead of simply walking away silently, you can point them in the direction of help and recovery.

Note: You don’t want to tie recovery or therapy to a restoration of the relationship with you. It’s usually not a good idea to say that you’re ending the relationship or distancing yourself until they seek help. You’re walking away because it’s the right thing for yourself. They need to seek help because it’s the right thing for themselves.

You can always point your loved one toward Recreate Life Counseling in Boynton Beach, FL. With a comprehensive range of mental health and drug or alcohol rehabilitation services, we’re ready to help your loved one push toward positive change. We can help with cognitive behavioral therapy and treatment for a wide range of addictions and mental health disorders. Call us today to learn more.