Healthy Relationships and Mental Illness

April 26, 2021 Nicola Spendlove

When we're supporting someone with mental illness, I think it's very important to constantly examine how healthy our relationship with that person is. As my brother lives with chronic mental illness, I have first-hand experience of how unhealthy behaviors can easily creep into relationships, even with the best of intentions.

Why Can Healthy Relationships with Mental Illness Be Difficult? 


It's nice to feel needed. Sometimes when our loved one is chronically ill, we feel a sense of helplessness -- being the person who's always there to help with every little task can give us the valuable role that we crave.

I know I've been guilty of this in my relationship with my brother, and if I'm very honest, it serves me a lot more than it serves him. Teaching my brother that he needs my help with every aspect of his life because he has a mental illness isn't healthy or fair. A healthy relationship empowers the other person, but over-dependence lowers self-esteem.

Poor Boundaries

We all deserve to have our boundaries respected, but the lines can become blurred when supporting somebody with mental health issues.

I know in the past I've done a bad job at advocating for my boundaries when my brother has been acutely symptomatic, and I have stayed in situations where I felt unsafe as a result. Equally, I have violated my brother's boundaries in the past by being overly controlling and wanting access to information that I have no right to.

It's important to remember that regardless of mental illness, everyone has a right to their personal boundaries. If either party's boundaries are violated for any reason, they have the right to advocate on their own behalf. While this can be a difficult one to navigate, I believe it's a key component of healthy relationships in mental illness.

Relationship Health Check

My brother and I are using a strategy called a "health check" to proactively discuss the condition of our relationship, and I've made a video explaining it further. You can watch it below, and I would love your thoughts.

What are your experiences of building and maintaining healthy relationships in mental illness? Do you have any tips or struggles? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2021, April 26). Healthy Relationships and Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

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Joseph Burley
June, 29 2023 at 8:35 am

This is excellent Nicole.
I am a psychiatrist and I find that relationships and support are key to mental health and recovery from illness. Presently loneliness and lack of supportive relationships is epidemic, especially among adolescents and young adults. This post would be good for in school education. Have you ever thought of asking your local school authority if you could do some of this (in person or via video like this one) in a school setting.
Well done Nicole
Joseph Burley

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