I am not a teacher of mental illness; I am an observer and a student of this disease. Never before did I think about mental illness until I started to work in the field of general mediation, and then divorce mediation. What I noticed when I entered the practice of mediation is that many people have a very difficult time participating and communicating in relationships, be they neighbor/neighbor, employee/employer, or spouse/spouse.
In divorce, I read every book on high conflict personalities from Bill Eddy, the international guru of personality disorders, a form on mental illness, but with a higher level of functionality in society than straight ahead debilitating mental illness. Bill developed a method called BIFF (Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm) as a response technique when dealing with people who are narcissists, sociopaths, bi-polar, and borderline. These techniques seriously work!
But what can a spouse do if they cannot handle being married to someone who is beyond personality disorders and is suicidal, manic depressive, and high anxiety to the point where they can’t work and can’t contribute to the marriage? A divorce can be filed for citing permanent mental incapacity as the reason in most states. This adds a whole different twist to the divorce process and the decisions needed to get the settlement done.
We are learning from the Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi divorce that Tom’s brother Robert was awarded a Conservatorship over Tom, and will be responsible for interfacing with the divorce to complete it instead of Tom. This is one option a spouse has in making sure that their soon-to-be former spouse has a voice in the settlement.
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is an organization that can help you understand your spouse’s mental illness, and guide you in so many supportive ways, not the least of which is how to approach your spouse with the idea of divorce and how to mitigate the guilt that comes with wanting and needing to end your relationship. This is all so difficult. There are no easy answers, but with education and awareness, your process can be the best it can be.
There are also mental illness support groups in your area that you can find just by Googling groups who can mentor and guide you throughout the divorce.
Statistics from a 2019 survey NAMI survey show that one in five people in the United States are affected with some sort of mental illness. Know that you are not alone if you have a spouse with mental illness. If divorce is the only option, you have to push guilt aside and try to get your spouse the help he or she needs first, and then hire a team of legal and therapeutic professionals knowledgable enough and sensitive to mental illness to assist in the divorce process for both of you.