HAPPY INTERNATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH DAY – Your mental health and your marriage.

Thirty percent of Nigerians, roughly seventy million people suffer from mental health disorders. Sometimes this can be attributable to psychological trauma arising from physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment and other environmental stressors. Depending on how you view it, marriage may be a contributing or reducing factor to psychological trauma and eventually mental health. A healthy marriage can contribute a lot to ones mental health and vice versa. On the other hand an unhealthy marriage can negatively impact mental health and vice versa. In my experience as a counselor, I have seen different sides of the spectrum.

According to Fincham and Beach 2010, “the social, psychological, and financial support provided by marriage reduces suicidal ideation, depression affect, anxiety and substance abuse.” Marriage is meant to be a place of love, acceptance, respect, companionship, support and respect. It can and should be a refuge from all these stressors and emotional irritants. Having a partner one can share life’s pressures with and share hobbies and recreation with goes a long way to promote our mental health. Even if and when mental health issues occur, a suffering partner is sure to have a support system in their partner who is in a position to detect before anyone else that something is wrong.

Marriage protects against loneliness. It can greatly improve mental health as bothparties enjoy the relationship. The couple can freely share their fears and anxieties. It provides a support system as there is always someone to share things with. A healthy sexual relationship within marriage is also a contributing factor to mental health. In countries such as Nigeria where marriage is seen as an achievement and there is tremendous pressure to get married, actually getting married and staying married is a great de- stressor. Not being married or “settled down” can be a stigma which adds a lot of mental pressure that may deteriorate into mental disease.

Being mentally healthy also allows one to function properly in a marriage. One is able to bear the pressures of everyday living and can bring positive companionship to one’s spouse. The marriage becomes a healthy partnership between two healthy individuals and when troubles arise both can easily surmount by healthy communication.  Even though personalities may differ the mentally health partners will be able to reach compromises as each bring their different perspectives to the table.

Unfortunately, this is not true of all marriages. Some marriages are major stressors and are the crucible where many mental health issues start and grow. Underlying mental health issues too may be worsened under the pressure of a bad marriage. As a therapist /counselor I have come across incidents where spouses have broken down mentally because of longstanding unresolved marital issues. A spouse may even take advantage of their spouses’ mental health. Instead of supporting the spouse by encouraging them to seek help they hide behind the spouses’ mental health to exploit the spouse financially and in other ways. They believe that if the mentally ill spouse reports this no one will believe them because people know their spouse is mentally challenged.

Poor mental health can also adversely affect a marriage. Several studies have shown that mentally ill patients have higher rates of marital discord, separation and even divorce. I have counseled couples where a spouse’s mental ill – health madethe marriage a nightmare. In one case it had given rise to embarrassment, even death of the other spouse for example because of schizophrenia. When untreated the mental health continues to worsen and the spouses continue to suffer for it. I have come across several cases where a spouse is neurotic and wrongly believes that the spouse is out to get them. A cat and mouse scenario ensues and things quickly disintegrate.

In abusive marriages, gas lighting is a tactic used by an abuser, which adversely affects the mental health of the better half. The term “gas light” came from a 1938 play, “Gas light” in which the husband tries to get his wife crazy by dimming the lights in the house and denies that the light has dimmed when the wife tells him. The abusive spouse may hide their partners stuff and deny that they ever existed, that the partner was imagining things. If this goes on undetected it negatively impacts the mental health of the spouse as the spouse begins to believe that they are indeed crazy. The marriage is literally one made in hell.

In conclusion, we need to take care of ourselves. Emotional and mental issues should be dealt with speedily. Just as physical conditions degenerate when left untreated the same goes for mental health conditions. Before things become toohard to bear seek help. Talk to a therapist, counselor or psychiatrist. Break the culture of bottling things up.

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