Setting Boundaries | When to Walk Away From Someone With Mental Illness For Your Own Mental Well-Being - Joshua York Legacy Foundation

Setting Boundaries | When to Walk Away From Someone With Mental Illness For Your Own Mental Well-Being

Jul 5, 2024 | Outreach, Mental Health Awareness, Blog | 0 comments

when to walk away from someone with mental illness

Have you ever wondered when to walk away from someone with mental illness? Navigating relationships can be challenging, especially when mental illness is involved. For caregivers and mental health advocates, understanding when to walk away from someone with mental illness is a critical but often difficult decision.

This blog post aims to provide you with the necessary insights, guidelines, and emotional support to make informed choices that prioritize your own mental well-being.

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What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness encompasses a wide range of mental health conditions that affect a person’s mood, thinking, and behavior.

These conditions can vary from mild to severe and can include disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and many others. Mental illnesses can disrupt daily life and affect an individual’s ability to relate to others and function effectively.

They are often influenced by a combination of genetic factors, brain chemistry, and life experiences, including trauma or abuse. Understanding the complexities of mental illness is crucial for recognizing the need for proper treatment and support.

Types of Mental Illness

Understanding the various types of mental illnesses is fundamental when navigating your relationship with someone who is affected.

Mental health disorders can broadly be categorized into several types, each with its unique characteristics and challenges:

  • Mood Disorders: These include depression and bipolar disorder, where the primary symptom is a significant disturbance in mood, affecting daily functioning.
  • Anxiety Disorders: Conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias fall under this category, characterized by excessive fear or worry.
  • Personality Disorders: These include borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and others that involve enduring patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience.
  • Psychotic Disorders: Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are examples, marked by distorted thinking and awareness, including delusions and hallucinations.
  • Eating Disorders: Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder involve preoccupations with food, body weight, and shape, leading to dangerous eating behaviors.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders: Examples include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphic disorder, involving persistent, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors.
  • Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder arise due to exposure to traumatic or stressful events.

Recognizing these types of mental illnesses helps in comprehending the specific challenges your loved one faces and paves the way for more informed and compassionate decision-making regarding your relationship and boundaries.

How Mental Illness Affects Loved Ones

When a person you care about struggles with mental illness, it can significantly impact your life as well. The emotional toll is often considerable, manifesting as stress, anxiety, or even depression. Watching a loved one face such challenges can leave you feeling helpless, frustrated, or overwhelmed.

Additionally, the unpredictability of their condition might strain your relationship, leading to conflicts and misunderstandings.

Moreover, the demands of caregiving may result in physical exhaustion and a lack of personal time, further deteriorating your overall well-being. Financial burdens can also arise if medical treatment and therapy are expensive.

Understanding how mental illness affects not only the individual but also those around them is crucial for creating an environment of empathy and support while ensuring that you maintain your own mental health.

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Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

Recognizing the signs of an unhealthy relationship is the first step in deciding whether it’s time to walk away.

Here are some indicators:

Emotional Abuse

When someone constantly belittles, criticizes, or manipulates you, it’s a red flag. Emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse, leaving deep scars on your mental well-being.

Physical Abuse

If you experience physical harm, it’s essential to prioritize your safety. Physical abuse is never acceptable, and seeking immediate help from emergency services is crucial.

Financial Abuse

Controlling your finances or exploiting your resources for their gain indicates financial abuse. This type of manipulation can severely impact your own life and future.

The Dilemma for Caregivers and Advocates

Caregivers and mental health advocates often face a significant emotional toll when considering walking away. The decision becomes even more complex as they weigh their own needs against their commitment to supporting someone with mental illness.

Emotional Exhaustion

Constantly caring for someone with mental health issues can lead to overwhelming stress and emotional exhaustion. It’s important to recognize when you’re running on empty.

Guilt and Responsibility

Feelings of guilt often accompany the thought of leaving. You might question your loyalty and worry about the consequences for the mentally ill person.

Prioritizing Self-Care

Remember, prioritizing your own mental health is not selfish. It’s necessary for your overall well-being and enables you to offer better support if you continue the relationship.

Strategies for Walking Away

If you’ve decided that walking away is the best option, here are some strategies to approach the situation with empathy and understanding:

Seek Professional Help

Engage with mental health professionals who can offer guidance tailored to your specific situation. They can provide strategies to ease the transition for both parties involved.

Build a Support Network

Surround yourself with family members, friends, and support groups who understand your dilemma. Having a solid support system makes the process less isolating.

Establish Healthy Boundaries

Clearly communicate your boundaries with the person. Explain why you need to step back and express your desire for their well-being.

The Aftermath

Leaving a relationship, especially one where mental illness is involved, can have a profound emotional impact. Here’s how to cope:

Coping Mechanisms

Allow yourself to grieve the relationship. Engage in activities that bring you joy and help you heal emotionally.

Self-Care Practices

Prioritize self-care by engaging in activities that nurture your mental, emotional, and physical health. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, or a hobby, self-care is vital for recovery.

Seeking Support

Consider joining support groups or seeking professional counseling to help you through this challenging period. Sharing experiences with others in similar situations can offer comfort and advice.

a person drowns underwater

Recap: When to Walk Away from Someone with Mental Illness for Your Own Healthy Relationships

Deciding to walk away from someone with mental illness can be incredibly challenging and fraught with emotional complexity.

However, maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself and others is paramount. Here are some situations that may indicate it’s time to consider ending the relationship:

Chronic Emotional and Physical Abuse

No one deserves to endure abusive behavior. If the person’s mental illness leads to consistent emotional or physical abuse, your safety and well-being must take precedence. Prolonged exposure to abuse can result in severe mental health repercussions for you, including depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Lack of Effort Toward Improvement

It’s crucial to recognize your limits, especially if the individual refuses treatment or shows no willingness to work on their mental health. A relationship can only thrive on mutual effort; if all attempts at encouraging improvement fail, it may be time to reconsider your involvement.

Impact on Your Mental Health

Your mental health is just as important as the other person’s. If the relationship consistently takes a toll on your emotional and psychological well-being, leaving you feeling drained, hopeless, or anxious, this is a significant indicator that stepping away might be necessary.

Disruption of Daily Life and Responsibilities

When the demands of the relationship severely obstruct your ability to perform daily tasks, fulfill professional duties, or participate in social activities, it’s essential to evaluate the impact on your life. Prioritizing your responsibilities and personal growth is critical for a balanced, healthy life.

Isolation from Support Networks

If being in the relationship leads to isolation from friends, family, or other support networks, it becomes difficult to maintain a reasonable perspective and gather the strength needed to manage the situation. This isolation can further exacerbate feelings of helplessness and loneliness.

Multiple Attempts at Resolution Have Failed

If you have consistently tried to address issues and navigate the relationship with care and compassion but find no improvement, it may signify that continuing will only cause further harm. Sustainable relationships thrive on progress and mutual understanding, and a lack of either necessitates a reevaluation.

Walking away from someone with mental illness is never an easy decision, but sometimes it is the most loving choice you can make—for both of you. Protecting your mental health and fostering healthy relationships allows you to contribute positively to those you care about and yourself.

man in black shirt sitting on chair

Resources for Mental Health Treatment

Finding the right resources for mental health treatment is essential in ensuring comprehensive care for both you and your loved ones. Below is a list of valuable resources that can offer guidance, support, and treatment options:

National Resources

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI offers education, support, and advocacy for individuals affected by mental illness.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA provides information and resources on mental health and substance abuse treatment services.

  • is an informative portal offering resources for understanding mental health and finding treatment options.

Crisis Support

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit for 24/7 crisis support.

  • Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741 or visit to connect with a trained crisis counselor at any time.

Online Therapy and Counseling

  • BetterHelp: BetterHelp offers online counseling with licensed therapists.

Support Groups

  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA): DBSA offers peer support groups for individuals living with mood disorders.

Educational Resources

  • Mayo Clinic Mental Health: Mayo Clinic provides detailed articles and advice on managing various mental health conditions.

These resources can help you navigate the complexities of mental health treatment and offer support throughout your journey.

Resources for Caregivers and Loved Ones

Supporting someone with a mental illness can be challenging, and caregivers may need resources tailored to their unique needs. The following list will provide valuable information, support networks, and tools specifically for caregivers and loved ones:

Informational Resources

  • Family Caregiver Alliance: Family Caregiver Alliance offers programs and resources to address the needs of families and friends providing long-term care.

  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): NIMH provides comprehensive information on various mental health conditions and advice for caregivers.

Support Networks

  • Al-Anon Family Groups: Al-Anon provides support to family members and friends of people who have alcoholism.

  • Caregiver Action Network (CAN): CAN offers resources, education, and support for caregivers of individuals with any medical condition.

Educational Tools

  • Caring Bridge: Caring Bridge offers free websites to help caregivers stay connected with family and friends while managing their caregiving responsibilities.

  • Next Step in Care: Next Step in Care provides guides and checklists to help family caregivers through all stages of providing care.

Counseling and Mental Health Support

  • Psychology Today Caregiver Support: Psychology Today offers listings of support groups and mental health professionals specializing in caregiver issues.

  • Therapy for Caregivers: BetterHelp provides online therapy options specifically for caregivers to address their mental health needs.

Financial Assistance

  • provides information on financial assistance programs available to caregivers.

  • National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP): NFCSP provides grants to states to support family and informal caregivers.

These tailored resources can help caregivers manage their responsibilities and maintain their well-being while providing care for loved ones with mental health conditions.


Mental health support is crucial, but so is your well-being. Walking away from someone with mental illness is a difficult but sometimes necessary decision. Remember, you are not alone. Prioritize self-care, seek professional help, and build a support network to guide you through this challenging time.


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