MHAW2016 – How do you know if you're in a negative relationship?


Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place this year between May 16th – 22nd, and I for one am celebrating this. Mental illness is something which is being increasingly talked about, but sometimes, it’s still not being fully understood. There’s such a broad spectrum of illnesses that come under this umbrella, just as with physical illnesses. However, unlike with physical illnesses that you can actually see, there’s still more judgement on those suffering with the likes of depression, anxiety and many other conditions as there are on people with visible ailments.

Most of us wouldn’t think twice about emailing our lecturer or boss saying we were in hospital with a broken leg so we couldn’t come in that day. However, how many of us would feel confident saying that we were genuinely too depressed to motivate ourselves to do any work? This needs to change, because for many people suffering with mental illness, their condition is just as debilitating.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Relationships. I think it’s perfect. One of the battles that people with mental illnesses seem to face is that there’s seemingly only certain types of mental illnesses which are taken seriously. When it comes to relationships, often people scoff, roll their eyes and say things like “boyfriend drama”, when really, a whole host of people are actually trapped in toxic, or even abusive, relationships. It doesn’t matter how independent or strong you are – sometimes you’re not immune to being unable to walk away.

What Are Negative Relationships?

Negative relationships aren’t always about physical abuse. From my time volunteering with vulnerable women, I learned that the emotional problems can take their toll just as much (if not more so). Often, a person in a negative relationship will manipulate you, or make you believe you are weak. This can weigh very heavily on a person, especially someone already susceptible to mental illness. After time, this can cause conditions like depression or anxiety in itself!

A healthy relationship is one where you feel valued, appreciated, and respected. You’re not being controlled by anyone else, and you’re given the chance to speak and do as you please. Of course, all couples have boundaries they expect, and many couples will argue on occasion. But if you’re ever feeling trapped, unhappy, or confused that could be a warning sign that it’s not healthy – even if it’s not one particular person’s fault. Unhealthy relationships aren’t always abusive ones!

Who Suffers In Negative Relationships?

Of course, it’s not just women who suffer in abusive or toxic relationships. Men are very often victims too, as are people who don’t identify with a particular gender. It’s important that you realise your struggles are equally as valid if you’re going through that, and that you also have the right to be heard, without being judged.

In any case, it’s not as simple as saying to someone ‘just walk away’. I could signpost you to every resource and every student centre under the sun, but unless you’re ready, it might not do you any good. However, the point of this piece is to make you realise that if it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. Your concerns are valid, you’re not over-exaggerating, and there will be someone to listen to you whenever you feel the time is right.

Getting Help

Whilst nobody can force you to walk away unless there’s some kind of an intervention, they can advise you. I advise anyone who isn’t in a healthy relationship to try to take steps to realise they are worth more.

Whether it’s a friendship, boyfriend, girlfriend, marriage or even a relationship between colleagues or family members, all relationships are key to keeping us feel healthy and safe. If any of these things are wrong in our lives, it’s no wonder we often feel off balance.

If you’re struggling, Liberty Living can always point you in the right direction. When your mental health is affected by anything at all, it can be good to talk. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach; and some people respond to counselling, whilst others respond to medication. Seek the advice of your GP as soon as you can, visit your Student Union, or seek resources such as helplines or online facts. If you recognise that a friend is going through a hard time, be there to listen, don’t dismiss them, and gently let them know that there are people who can assist.

Remember, mental illness is just as valid as any other kind of illness, and so you deserve understanding and help.

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