Kim Kardashian Knows What It’s Like to Love Someone With Mental Illness
After Kanye West tweeted a series of alarming tweets this week, including some about himself and his family that are now deleted, following a confusing campaign rally for his presidential bid, his wife, Kim Kardashian, issued a statement.
“As many of you know, Kanye has bi-polar disorder. Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand. I’ve never spoken publicly about how this has affected us at home because I am very protective of our children and Kanye’s right to privacy when it comes to his health. But today, I feel like I should comment on it because of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health.”
Having a mental illness like Kanye’s is a challenge; so is loving and living with someone with mental illness, with an extra layer of angst — you’re always walking a fine line between enabling and compassionate support, guilt and fear, anger and helplessness.
I know because I have a son who has OCD. But, as a parent, I have unconditional love for him; spouses don’t always feel that way toward each other.
About 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — live with a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
That means there are a lot of marriages experiencing mental illness.
Marriages in which one spouse is depressed are nine times more likely to end up in divorce, according to Laura Epstein Rosen and Xavier Francisco Amador, authors of When Someone You Love is Depressed: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself. That’s a pretty depressing number. It isn’t depression itself that sends a couple to divorce attorneys, however, but the consequences of not addressing the depression, experts say. And most of us aren’t very good at that.
A recent study indicates couples with a mentally distressed husband or wife had more than a twofold risk of divorce, and that “mental distress predicts divorce for as long as 8 years or more into the future” after a mental illness event.
“Our loved ones see our illness far differently than we do,” writes John McManamy, an award-winning mental health journalist and author who has bipolar disorder and blogs at McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web. “We may complain that they don’t understand us, but far too many of us fail to recognize the horrible abuse we have put them through.”
It isn’t easy living with someone who has a mental illness, nor does everyone reach such a happy ending as the story of John Forbes Nash Jr., a Princeton mathematician and schizophrenic who was the subject of 2001’s A Beautiful Mind. Often a depressed spouse withdraws or cheats. Sometimes the spouse of the depressed person feels responsible and becomes more of a caretaker than a partner. Not only is that exhausting, but it doesn’t make for a happy, healthy marriage.
Even treatments for mental illness can cause problems in a marriage. Many of the meds can impact a person’s sexual responses and desire. Plus there is still a lot of shame and guilt surrounding mental illness, although there’s more awareness now than ever before.
If depression continues for a long time, a spouse may get tired of dealing with it and seek a divorce, according to Constance Ahrons, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Southern California and author of The Good Divorce.
I was surprised to discover that the rates of divorce for people with OCD are relatively low, just 3 percent to 5 percent. This bodes well for my son, thankfully, should he marry one day. But divorce rates for those with bipolar are much more sobering; about 90 percent of marriages in which one person has bipolar end.
Which couples are most likely to stay together? Those who acknowledge the illness and keep talking with each other about it. Spouses have to know where to draw a boundary line, as long as they realize that that line is constantly going to have to be redrawn, says David A. Karp, a sociology professor at Boston College and author of The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness.
Kardashian, who has been married to Kanye for six years and has four children with him, seems to understand that shifting line:
“Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor. People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individual themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard family and friends try.”
That said, sometimes spouses just have to withdraw. If they don’t take care of themselves first, they won’t be able to take care of others.
While it may seem cruel to divorce someone who’s mentally ill, part of removing the stigma of mental illness is accepting that everyone — mentally ill or not — is not only marriageable but divorceable, too.