First, let me say that not everyone with a mental health diagnosis is abusive, nor does every abuser have a mental health diagnosis or disorder. But I want to break down and discuss WHY someone having a mental health disorder, be it PTSD, depression, or a personality disorder, doesn’t excuse abuse and what you should do in a dangerous or suicidal situation.
1. You didn’t cause their mental health disorder. You are not responsible for their mental health, they are. They are the only ones who can be in control of their ability to seek help or work to change, and this kind of work and change takes time, self-awareness, and self-control.
2. Married or not, you are not required to “stick it out” with an abusive person, even if they have a mental health disorder. If you are in a dangerous or toxic relationship with your partner or spouse, staying will not make it better any time soon – they need long-term professional help. If you have the means to make a safe exit, you should do so. An abusive partner with a mental health disorder may be in less control of their mindset and ability to stop themselves from harming you. This includes substance abuse or alcoholism.
3. Do not allow an abuser to control you into staying with a suicidal threat. It is not your responsibility to stay in order to save them from themselves. The best thing you can do for someone who threatens suicide is to contact the authorities to intervene, and if you are receiving suicidal threats remotely via text or phone and are not in the same location as them, request to send a welfare check via 911 to their residence.
4. If you fear for your life, then you need to make a safe and planned exit. Do not ever allow an abuser to make you hand him a weapon: this puts your prints on the weapon and makes it easy for him to set up a frame job for your own murder-suicide… Yes, these kinds of things can happen, and when we are in the midst of abuse, we may not be thinking clearly. Attempt to remain calm and diffuse the situation and offer to call someone for help. If you can get away, do so. (This particular piece of advice comes from the personal experience of one of our advocates.)
Remember, you are not responsible for their mental health or abusive behavior. While they might not feel in control of their own actions, you definitely aren’t in control of their actions. Chances are the suicidal threat of an abuser is a bluff to make you stay or come back to them, as this is a common hoovering tactic, but since all suicidal threats should be taken seriously, then getting or sending actual help should be the response. There is no reason for you to return to them: you are not a mental health professional equipped to manage their suicidal threat, and should they be prepared to follow through they may also be ready to take you with them.
When anyone’s life is on the line, do what you can to get professional, emergency help. You wouldn’t run to your neighbor’s to put out their fully engulfed housefire, you’d call the fire department. When your loved one or abuser’s mental health is spiraling or burning out of control, call for help.