Salt Lake City, Utah, April 22, 2024

Continuing our mental health series curated by Promise2Live, Carrie Hill, a board member of Promise2Live and public relations professional, discusses navigating a family's response to unaddressed mental health issues within a family from the perspective of a concerned spouse.

See Brandy Vega's inaugural article of the seriesthe profile story about Promise2Live.

The second article in this series—an introduction to Tom Telford's BrainStoke podcastcan be found here

The third article in the series was written by Richard Godfrey, Co-founder and CEO of Avec Me, and discusses fitting prosthetic limbs for elephants that have been injured by landmines in Cambodia. It can be found here.

The fourth article in the series is on how to help those who are struggling, authored by Cameron McBride, CEO of Blomquist Hale Solutions, a Salt Lake City-based company specializing in mental health solutions. Click here to read it.

Carrie Hill will participate in a Silicon Slopes/Promise2Live Mental Health Town Hall on Thursday, June 13 at Silicon Slopes HQ in Lehi, with a focus on men, reflecting that June is Men's Mental Health Month. 

Other panelists of the June 13th panel include:

  • Dr. Dave Morgan, Licensed Psychologist and Director of Mental Health Awareness for Silicon Slopes
  • Brandy Vega, Founder of Promise2Live
  • Joe Tuia'ana, Founder & CEO of the I Love You, Bro PROJECT
  • Curtis Morley, Author and CEO of Counterfeit Emotions, and
  • Brandon Sunday, Owner at Pando Development

Silicon Slopes & Promise2Live Mental Health Town Hall, Thursday, June 13, 2024 at Noon at Silicon Slopes HQ in Lehi, 2600 Executive Parkway, Suite 140, Lehi UT 84043.

The panel features individuals with lived experience, family members, and advocates sharing inspiring stories of hope and perseverance, providing attendees with insights into resilience and recovery journeys.

For more information about the June 13th Town Hall or to register, click here.

Signs Unknown: A Wife's Lens on a Spouse’s Unaddressed Mental Health Journey

Navigating the mental health of a loved one, especially a spouse, can feel like an overwhelming and confusing experience. I often compare it to an event from when I was 18 and living in Europe with my family. Growing up in the military, I spent the latter half of my senior year in Belgium. As an 18-year-old, I had the chance to take the driver's test for an international driver's license. I diligently studied over 100 road signs for the written test and aced it. Feeling confident, I believed the driving component would be just as easy.

The day of the driving test arrived, and I got into the car with my instructor and did well on the cobblestone streets until I reached a—wait for it—a roundabout. For a girl fresh from the straight, simple roads of Sierra Vista, Arizona, European roundabouts were an unfamiliar challenge. Despite acing my written test, I was unprepared for the practical application of the signs I had studied. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed what slightly registered as a “Yield” sign, but I was so distracted that I didn’t fully process it. As I entered the roundabout, I narrowly avoided an accident. When the horns and hand gestures stopped, I looked at my Flemish instructor, with tears in my eyes, and he simply said, “Go.” Clearly, it was not his first rodeo.

This experience mirrors the challenge I faced in recognizing the signs of a spouse’s mental health struggle. You might think you’d recognize the signs of something disruptive with your spouse right away. However, when life gets busy, and spouses lead separate lives for much of the day, it’s easy to miss the early warning signs of an emotional crisis. Kids, life, professional goals and responsibilities, finances, physical health and other events can distract us from internalizing the warning signs of an oncoming crisis. These signs can be easy to brush off until you find yourself on the brink of an emotional crash in a mental health roundabout you aren’t sure how to navigate, which ultimately leaves you in tears.

Carrie Hill

Learning about mental health signs in theory is one thing; practically recognizing and addressing them is another.

For me, navigating my spouse’s mental health journey was devastating. I felt like I was the only one willing to address the growing unease I observed in him. Early in our relationship, after he experienced an unexpected physical injury, I noticed a shift in his energy. When I asked about what seemed to be a low humming anxiety, he’d say he was fine, and we’d move on. As time passed and our family grew, so did our responsibilities. I became accustomed to the hum beneath the surface for years.

As professional stress increased, the hum grew louder. Behaviors that once seemed passive became uncomfortable and more visible, and even though we could feel the unease of a pending gloom, it seemed only one of us wanted to talk about it. No matter how much I reached, no matter how much he avoided my reach, neither of us was prepared for the emotional roundabout ahead.

One day, I received a distraught call from my spouse. He was overwhelmed with anger after receiving some deeply hurtful and impactful news at work. Trying not to panic, I thought, “What do I do right now? I don’t know how to help. I’m going to lose him.” I instinctively knew this moment was a turning point in his mental health journey and it felt like I was bracing myself for an oncoming emotional tornado. This moment called for a complete change of plan. I suggested we sell our home and move to be near family, hoping it would alleviate his discord. But the outcome was not what I had hoped for. It appeared to me that the low hum seemed to have gone unspoken for so long that tentacles of depression, frustration, anxiety, disillusionment, and disconnection had taken root.

Instead of alleviation and re-centering, despair seemed to travel with us. In the lack of real answers from him about what he was experiencing, I questioned what actions I was taking that caused him to disconnect and why he didn’t trust me enough to talk about his feelings? This kind of internal blame is common among women. In the absence of communication but in the desire to heal, fix and help, we create narratives that often feed our insecurities, leading us to believe we are the root of the problem. This can turn well-intentioned inquiries into a sense of failure for men, creating a vicious cycle of misunderstanding, withdrawal, isolation and resentment.

In the absence of real information about his well-being, I reacted to and made decisions based on his actions. I noticed a pattern: watching more TV, sleeping until mid-afternoon, disengaging from the family, and withdrawing from me, our family, more time spent in a dark room, more time isolated, minimal desire to work and less interest in things that used to bring joy. And as I reached out with new information on the science of mental health, new videos on communication, new opportunities for therapy, or ideas about jobs that might be fulfilling, it seemed that the gate of interest was closing more and more every day. In addition to observing his journey, my own journey was starting to feel very heavy. There is a fine line between empathy and enablement, and I was standing on it. I describe this experience as second-hand depression. Observing my husband’s struggle, our relationship’s deterioration, and the consequent impact on our family was overwhelming. I felt despair. The lack of communication and seeming unwillingness to care about our relationship, our financial stability as a family and the future we might have, led me to believe he really didn’t care, and the feeling of indifference hurt more than anything.

A spouse can provide emotional support, offer reassurance, and validate their partner’s feelings. But we cannot voice their experiences or emotions for them. For me, unaddressed mental health challenges led to years of sitting in what felt like an ever growing black hole of desperation and surviving. Despite my efforts to educate us as a couple and engage in a shared healing pathway, the seeming lack of desire for recovery together, led to the breakdown of our marriage. Eventually, I had to make a choice between continuing down a path that was taking me into my own mental health pain, or end the journey and accept that I had done all I could. I chose me and my children and filed for divorce. Slowly, I, alongside my children who had been part of the journey in their own right, began to start healing the emotional, spiritual, physical and financial fallout. I share this story because it is Men’s Mental Health Month and unfortunately, this is a very real outcome of unaddressed mental health experiences.

When men shield themselves from being vulnerable, they push the most precious relationships they have away, at the moment they need them most. My hope is that both men and women will understand that it is not a spouse’s job to heal what a partner cannot speak. We can support, educate, and offer love and patience, but we cannot manage our partner's mental health for them. Realizing that each individual and relationship is unique, and involvement levels may vary, the journey to understand and to be understood is real. Learning to navigate a partner's mental health challenges requires connection and action with self and with one another, empathy, patience, and desire to heal. By working together, spouses can make a significant difference in their partner’s journey toward well-being.

In conclusion, I would like to say to all men, please pay attention to the feelings and inklings of emotional discord within yourself. Yield to the discomfort. Speak the unspeakable to your spouse. Together, create a healthy and healing path forward to avoid the emotional crash of a mental health roundabout. You’ll avoid much pain and second-hand depression for those you love in the future if you do.

That togetherness is where the light is. That is where connection is found. There is no greater gift you can offer those you love than a healthy mind and body. You are loved. You are accepted. You are safe, and as Ken says to Ken in the Barbie movie, “You are Kenough!”

Visit Mental Health America for a free mental health screening.

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