“Mac Killer.” “It’s your fault.” “It’s crazy because you really did kill him.”
These were the comments that flooded singer Ariana Grande’s Instagram feed after the death of 26-year-old rapper Mac Miller on Sept. 7. Though the cause of Miller’s death has yet to be confirmed, the artist was known to struggle with substance abuse.
While the comments have since been removed, the damage has been done. Miller and Grande dated for two years before their split this past May. Shortly after the breakup, Grande began dating, and then got engaged to, Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson.
Though Miller and Grande publicly split on good terms, fans speculated that Miller was heartbroken when he crashed his car into a light post while heavily intoxicated soon after their breakup.
The incident prompted one fan to tweet that, “the most heartbreaking thing happening in Hollywood” was Miller’s crash and DUI after Grande left the singer for another man. Grande came to her own defence, responding that nobody should have to stay in a “toxic” relationship or be responsible for their partner’s actions.
Grande’s statement and the blame she’s received over Miller’s death brings attention to the challenges that can arise in relationships when one partner is struggling with an addiction or mental health issue. With mental illness rates on the rise, an opioid crisis sweeping the country, and the looming legalization of cannabis, it’s important to address the options for those supporting loved ones who are fighting an internal battle.
According to Maura O’Keefe, the clinical coordinator at Ryerson’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling (CSDC), relationship issues and breakups are the most common reasons for counselling visits. For those with a partner who is struggling with mental health issues or addiction, O’Keefe said that the first step is deciding whether you can continue with the relationship.
“A lot of it is [deciding] where you’re at in terms of your ability to continue to support this person… and if the love is kind of gone and you’re just doing it out of obligation,” said O’Keefe.
While this decision isn’t easy, O’Keefe said that the choice must be made with your personal well-being taking priority.
Continuing with the relationship means considering a number of factors, the first being safety, O’Keefe added. Should the student present any concerns regarding violence or abuse, their counsellor will ensure that a safety plan is put in place to reduce harm to the person and their partner.
Other key aspects to consider include both partners’ ability to communicate and set boundaries within the relationship. Being able to discuss the impact that the mental health or addiction issue is having on each person, their relationship, and their individual needs is essential, said O’Keefe.
“You can’t be your partner’s therapist or addictions counsellor,” said O’Keefe. “Your role is to be a loving, listening, encouraging, and supportive person.”
Farrah Khan, manager of Ryerson’s Consent Comes First office, said people often shy away from discussing these sensitive topics with their significant other.
“We don’t talk about boundaries and safety and emotional safety, or our limits – be it financial, emotional, mental, sexual – and those are really important to set,” said Khan.
In addition to setting these limits, O’Keefe said that being informed on the potential symptoms and what your partner is struggling with is important to help you better support them.
She adds, as a final step, both people need to set up their own support system beyond just each other. Regardless of the person, the more support both parties have, the better the relationship can be maintained.
Outside of the relationship, Khan addressed the importance of those closest to the couple in these situations. Rather than take sides, Khan said that it’s important to acknowledge the emotional strain both people in the relationship are dealing with and to extend support.
If the worst happens, as was the case with Miller, it’s easy for people that were closest to them to feel guilty and believe they did something wrong.
“That’s the hard part of this situation, there’s often a ‘What could I have done?’ or ‘How did this happen?’” said O’Keefe. “There’s a period of time of trying to make sense of it all and that’s normal and that takes time and a lot of support.”
Last week, the singer took to Instagram to pay tribute to Miller by posting a video of him. In her caption, she apologizes for not being able to take his pain away, evidently being in a lot of pain herself. This Tuesday, over a week after Miller’s death, Grande announced that she is stepping out of the public eye to “take time to heal.” Sometimes taking time is the first step on the road of self-care.
Ryerson students can contact the CSDC and Consent Comes First every weekday 9am – 4:45pm. For a crisis outside of those hours, call the Student Helpline- Good2Talk at 1 (866) 925-5454.