For Erin Ramachandran, the honeymoon was over – literally. She and her husband, Keith, had just spent their first week as newlyweds in October 2007 in Lake Chelan, Washington. They had hiked, enjoyed tastings at area wineries and visited the nearby German tourist town of Leavenworth.
The giddiness of their time together, however, came to an abrupt halt when they returned home to Sacramento. Keith started cleaning the house constantly. He spent hours scrubbing floors and washing dishes, leaving his wife feeling ignored and bewildered. “He wasn’t like that for the year and a half we dated,” says Ramachandran, a 2004 UCI graduate. change.”
Over time, Keith’s behavior escalated. He cleaned up to 16 hours a day and could no longer sleep or hold a job. Ramachandran insisted that her husband see a doctor. “He was diagnosed within two minutes,” she says, “with classic obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
It was the start of an ongoing mental health journey, with four additional diagnoses, suicidal ideation and other trials testing the couple’s relationship over the past 14 years. Ramachandran found few resources on how spouses can support both their loved one’s mental health and their marriage. So she created her own.
Through her book, Mental Health Strong, and her associated nonprofit, website, and virtual conferences, Ramachandran provides support for couples struggling with mental health and addictions.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 American adults suffers from a psychiatric disorder. Seventy-five percent of these conditions begin at age 24.
While seeking care, Keith acknowledged that he had had a previous episode of OCD when he was 10 years old. His compulsion at that time was not cleaning but schoolwork. However, being obsessed with studies was appreciated by his parents, says Ramachandran, so he was not diagnosed.
Just before their wedding, Keith had been disowned by his parents for changing his faith. The couple realized that this traumatic event, combined with the stressors of moving to a new city, starting a new job, and getting married, likely triggered the resurgence of OCD.
As Ramachandran struggled to juggle her husband’s ups and downs with her rising career as a healthcare program director at Kaiser Permanente, she continually searched for books or websites that could help her, but they remained empty.
“There are a lot of resources for weddings; a lot of them talk about communication and meeting each other’s needs,” says Ramachandran. “But with mental illness, your spouse can’t meet your needs because they can’t even function themselves.”
She was not surprised that a multinational survey found that marriages with a mental health issue in the mix are 20-80% more likely to end in divorce. Ramachandran and Keith had been apart for a while, but they worked with a therapist to move on together.
“People asked me, ‘You don’t have children; why do you stay in marriage if your needs are not met? “, She says. “I reply that if I had cancer, Keith wouldn’t leave me. We got married sick and healthy. If I really believe it’s a brain disorder, which I do, then that means the same thing: in sickness and in health.Therefore, we will try to get the appropriate help for this.
Ramachandran approached this challenge the same way she had since her days as a social ecology major at UCI: assessing problems and designing new solutions. She was the first manager of the UCI Women’s Rowing Club, handling not only team logistics but also alumni events. Ramachandran credits her propensity for problem-solving with her rise to the national office of Kaiser Permanente, where she became director of the healthcare program at age 31 and now leads the mental health and wellness program. In this position, she tries to understand what customers want from the problem-solving propensity for her rise through the national office of Kaiser Permanente, where she became director of the health care program at 31 and now leads mental health and wellness program. In this position, she tries to understand what clients want from mental health and addictions care and to improve their experience. “A few years apart, I was promoted to a new position where I find a problem, create the solution from scratch, and then deploy it,” she says. “It’s just part of my DNA.”
Strong sanity, published in 2019, combines Ramachandran’s own experience in dealing with issues such as helping versus empowering and navigating difficult situations with the resources to solve them. It provides templates for setting boundaries, preparing for relapses, maintaining a healthy relationship, and other critical tasks.
The Mental Health Strong website connects readers to an even wider range of resources. A calendar shares links to upcoming virtual Ramachandran leadership summits on marriage and mental health. A chart lists dozens of physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational tools. Spousal Assistance Sheets for 11 different diagnoses offer an overview of each condition, explain potential impacts on the marriage, and provide helpful words and phrases for the journey.
“If someone is struggling in a relationship, I want them to know there is hope,” Ramachandran says, adding that her husband is now working full time with significantly reduced OCD symptoms. “Support continues to grow. We can all play a part simply by overcoming stigma and being tolerant and compassionate towards people with mental health issues.
8 practical steps to stay mentally healthy
Clarify the diagnosis. You need to know what problem you are solving to approach it in the right way.
Help for you and your spouse. “Like on an airplane, you have to put on your oxygen mask before helping your partner with theirs,” says Ramachandran. “The healthier my approach to overcoming my anger and frustration, the better I can help her.”
Set limits. Establish what you want and don’t want to do.
Take the time to take care of yourself. Focus on what recharges you and keeps you healthy.
Don’t forget to cry. “Your relationship is different from what you thought it would be,” Ramachandran says. “Allow yourself to grieve the loss of expectations so you can move on.”
Own the trip. Accept that you will have more extreme ups and downs than other relationships.
Not yet. Expect relapses to occur.
Mental health gift. Look for the positives that have come out of your situation. “I’m more empathetic and compassionate than I could have been otherwise,” Ramachandran says.