When To Walk Away From Someone With Mental Illness

Addressing mental illness is intricate and delicate. It’s like walking a tightrope – wanting to lend a hand to a struggling pal, while sometimes needing to prioritize our own peace. It’s not about blaming them; it’s about balancing care with self-preservation.

This article delves into discerning when to distance oneself from someone with mental health issues. We’ll cover crucial considerations, red flags indicating it’s time to step back and ways to do it compassionately.

What’s mental illness?

Mental illness touches on a range of conditions impacting a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s a mental health condition that significantly hampers daily functioning. It’s essential to note that mental illness isn’t a choice, and folks can’t just “shake it off”.

Common types of mental illness

Some of the most common types of mental illness include:

  • Mood-related ones like depression and bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety types, e.g., generalized anxiety and social anxiety
  • Psychotic ones, notably schizophrenia
  • Eating ones, such as anorexia and bulimia
  • Substance-related, like alcoholism and opioid addiction

Being with someone mentally ill has its ups and downs. They may experience a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Social withdrawal
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

These signs often make it tough for them to connect with others, stay employed, or manage daily duties.

How Can Mental Illness Affect Relationships?

Mental illness affects relationships deeply, influencing both the individual and their close ones. The relationship with someone with a mental illness requires a great deal of patience and understanding.

Impact on the person with mental illness

According to mental health services, mental health challenges can hinder someone’s ability to foster strong relationships. Symptoms might include mood fluctuations, focus issues, avoiding social situations, or struggling to converse. As a result, establishing trust and intimacy becomes tougher.

They often feel alone and misunderstood, fearing judgment or rejection. This apprehension might drive them even further away from relationships.

Impact on their loved ones

Being close to someone with a mental condition is no walk in the park. Many feel swamped, exasperated, and left in the lurch. Feelings of guilt, shame, and frustration might surface.

Furthermore, they might constantly fret about the well-being of their affected loved one. Being on alert, ensuring the individual’s well-being, can weigh heavily on them.

Communication challenges

Miscommunication is typical when one party struggles with mental health. Expressing emotions and needs may become a hurdle.

There’s also the added challenge of possibly misreading social signs. All this can stir up confusion, disagreements, and hard feelings.

Emotional abuse

Sadly, emotional mistreatment is not rare in such scenarios. Some people with mental health concerns might resort to negative behaviors like:

  • Insults
  • Belittling remarks
  • Pointing fingers
  • Humiliating
  • Making threats

These actions can severely dent the recipient’s confidence and mental well-being.

Physical abuse

There’s also the alarming potential for physical aggression. Some might exhibit harmful actions like hitting, pushing, or hurling things. It’s crucial to note that violence is perilous and should never be brushed aside.

When Should You Walk Away from Someone with Mental Illness?

Choosing to step back from someone grappling with mental illness isn’t straightforward. It’s a thorny choice with no one-size-fits-all solution. Nonetheless, there are a few touchstones to consider:

  • If they’re shrugging off treatment: Remember, you can’t drag someone to get help. If they’re turning a blind eye, maybe it’s a cue for you to step back.
  • When they’re acting harmfully: Mental struggles shouldn’t justify abuse. Be it physical, emotional, or verbal, if harm’s in play, you ought to shield yourself.
  • If it’s tearing you down: Your mental well-being matters too. If you’re sinking emotionally, it might be your cue to distance yourself.
  • Despite your all-out efforts, things aren’t changing: On some occasions, even if they’re making an effort and aren’t harmful, it could still drain you. If all paths lead to a dead-end, focusing on your peace might be the way.

Deciding to distance oneself from someone battling mental issues is tough. It’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons, ensuring you’re making the best call for yourself. Remember, your well-being matters too.

  • It’s not about quitting on them: Keep in mind that pulling away isn’t the same as turning your back. It’s more about realizing that a close relationship may no longer be viable.
  • Feeling guilty is natural: Guilt might creep in if you decide to step back, but it’s key to know you can’t shoulder their recovery.
  • Your reasons are yours alone: While you might choose to share your reasons, you don’t owe them a long-winded explanation. If it feels right, a short chat can suffice, but it’s not a must.

Signs That It May Be Time To Walk Away

Figuring out when to distance oneself from someone with mental health issues can be tough. However, certain signs might nudge you toward that decision:

They’re skipping meds: Not adhering to their medication can lead to intensified and unpredictable symptoms, complicating the relationship for both parties.

They’re becoming more isolated: Pulling away from social circles or relationships might hint that they’re finding it hard to manage their condition. Such isolation can leave you feeling lonelier in the relationship.

Dangerous habits creep in: Engaging in high-risk actions, like substance misuse or excessive gambling, shows they might be off-balance. Such behaviors aren’t just risky for them but can strain your bond too.

Violence or harm is on their mind: Take any threats of harm or violence, whether directed at themselves or others, seriously. It’s a red flag indicating they might not have a grip on their emotions and actions.

You’re their scapegoat: If they’re consistently pinning their troubles on you, it can wear you out emotionally. Remember, their mental health or actions aren’t your fault.

How to Walk Away in a Healthy Way

Choosing to distance yourself from someone with mental health issues isn’t simple, but doing it the right way can make a world of difference. Here’s some advice:

Be honest with the person about your decision: It’s vital to be upfront. While you don’t need to spill every detail, they should know that continuing the relationship isn’t possible for you.

Have a conversation with the person: When discussing your choice, mix empathy with straightforwardness. Respect their feelings, but don’t blur your own needs and limits.

Set clear boundaries: After deciding, establish boundaries. This could mean limiting interactions or steering clear of certain discussions. And remember, stand firm in these decisions, even when they push back.

Accepting your feelings and seeking support: Breaking away can stir up a lot of emotions. Don’t shy away from them. Instead, chat with a therapist, confidant, or pal about your journey.

Take care of yourself: Your well-being is key. Eat well, catch those Zs, move your body, and hang out with those who uplift you.

Seeking External Support

Leaving someone battling mental health issues can be heart-wrenching. During this period, leaning on others is crucial. Some ways to find support are:

Therapy and Counseling: Therapy offers the backbone you need when making tough choices about relationships and self-care. Various therapies exist, like:

Individual sessions: These delve into your emotions, helping you handle stress and tricky feelings.

Family sessions: Aim to boost family communication and solidarity during tough times.

Support groups: Safe zones where you connect with folks who’ve walked in your shoes.

Legal Protections and Interventions

If ever you feel in danger, know your legal stance and get protection. Chatting with a lawyer can shed light on what to do next.

To summarize, stepping away from someone with mental health challenges requires a strong support system. There’s a sea of options out there; it’s essential to find the one that fits your shoes and circumstances best.

Self-Care Tips

Breaking ties with someone struggling mentally is tough and emotional. It’s vital to prioritize self-care. Here’s some advice:

Mourn the relationship’s end: It’s natural to grieve a challenging relationship. Let yourself truly feel, don’t bottle it up.

Seek professional guidance: A therapist can be your guiding light, helping you grasp emotions, find coping strategies, and make wise decisions.

Find a support circle: Groups offer solace, allowing bonds with those with similar tales. Swap stories, learn, and lean on one another.

Prioritize YOU: Nourish yourself with good food, ample sleep, and regular exercise. Relish the company of uplifting friends and engage in mood-boosting activities.

Self-Care activities: Ease stress with routines like:

  • Nature walks
  • Reading
  • Jamming to tunes
  • Relaxing baths
  • Massages
  • Yoga or meditation

Discover supportive communities: Numerous online and local groups assist those distancing from mentally unwell individuals.

Nurturing yourself is the key to healthily navigating this emotional terrain. By doing so, you’ll emerge stronger and ready to face life’s next chapter.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to stop enabling someone with mental illness?

To help someone with mental illness, set clear limits and stay firm. Don't always pay their bills or save them from problems. If they don’t manage their illness well, limit time with them. Encourage them to seek help and offer support.

How to help a mentally ill homeless family member?

To help a mentally ill homeless family member:
• Let them know you care.
• Motivate them to get professional help, maybe even find a therapist.
• Offer food, clothes, shelter, and rides.
• Link them to helpful organizations.
• Stay patient and supportive.

How to help a psychotic family member?

To assist a psychotic family member:
• Be calm and understanding, even when it's tough.
• Listen and try to see their viewpoint.
• Urge them to get professional care, possibly finding a therapist.
• Help with medicine, sleep, and healthy food.
• Make a safe, comforting space for them.

How to break up with someone with depression?

To break up with someone with depression:
• Pick a quiet, private spot for the talk.
• Show love and care when starting.
• Clearly explain your breakup reasons.
• Assure them it's not their fault.
• Suggest therapy or counseling.
• Listen and answer their questions.
• Allow them time to cope.

How to get someone mentally evaluated?

To get someone mentally evaluated:
• Discuss with their main doctor, who can check for mental issues.
• Directly reach out to a mental health expert.
• Some experts give free or cheap consultations.
• Suggest getting help from a therapist or counselor.

How to get your spouse mental help?

To get your spouse mental help:
• Share your concerns about their mental health.
• Suggest seeing a mental health expert.
• Help find a therapist or ask their doctor for advice.
• Go with them on the first visit.
• Stay patient and supportive.

How to help a mentally ill family member who refuses treatment?

To help a mentally ill family member refusing treatment:
• Learn about mental illness for better support.
• Discuss your concerns and show your love.
• Recommend professional help and help find a therapist.
• Offer to join their first visit.
• Remain patient and empathetic.

Final Thoughts

Walking away from someone with mental illness can be challenging. It’s essential to prioritize your well-being and remember you’re not responsible for their condition.

Deciding when to part ways is complex and unique to each situation. Look for signs like deteriorating mental health or consistent harm from the relationship.

Consulting professionals like therapists can provide clarity and support in making this difficult decision. Always approach the situation with empathy.

Read next: Living With Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder


  1. The Jed Foundation, “How to Safely End Unhealthy Relationships”
  2. National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Healthy Relationships”
  3. org, “How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship”
  4. Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, “What should I look out for?”
  5. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Spouse or Partner”