How to Talk About Mental Illness in a New Relationship

Dating can be tough for anyone, but for those with mental illness it can get a little tricky. Not to mention that anxiety disorder makes the whole process much more difficult – you deliberately introduce new potential sources of anxiety into your life – there is also the question of how and when to talk about mental illness with the person you are dating. Is it possible to do this too early? What if you leave it too late? What about stigma? To find out, we spoke with several mental health experts.

When to discuss mental illness in a relationship

Let’s start with the perfect moment in a relationship to highlight the fact that you are living with a mental illness. It turns out there are actually none, and there is no set schedule for other personal information to be revealed when you start dating. For the most part, the mental health professionals we interviewed said it all depends on the nature of the relationship, how comfortable you are with that person, and where you think the relationship is going.

According to Dr. Wilfred Van Gorp , psychologist and former president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology, this conversation should take place “when you have enough trust in the person that you want to take the relationship deeper.” Likewise, Dr. Leela R. Maghawi, MD , adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry , says that before disclosing personal information – as with any mental illness – you need to make sure that this is the person who you are. re dating respects and values ​​you. Sometimes it can take a month, and sometimes it can take a year, ”she explains, noting that all relationships are unique.

Meanwhile, Dr. Julian Lagoy, another community psychiatrist , advises against discussing your mental illness on the first date. Instead, he recommends waiting until things get serious and thinking about a longer-term, permanent relationship or marriage. “It’s obviously very difficult to talk about something like that to a new partner,” Lagoy tells Lifehacker. “However, it will be even worse if you never tell them about it, and then you get married or live together for many years, and they will know about it differently.”

How do you know that you are ready for this conversation?

So, you trust your partner, you want to have a future with him, and you think he respects you: does this mean that you are ready for mental illness? There is no set timetable for these discussions, according to Dr. Daryl Appleton , a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, communication strategies, mental health quarantine and relationship counseling.

But what you can do is make sure you get into what she calls the “vulnerability sharing phase” in the relationship. “You know, the one where they tell you about their trauma and inner fears, and you share in return,” – says Appleton Lifehacker. To determine if you are ready to take this step, she recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you see how your relationship with this person is developing and do you want to deepen it?
  • Has this person openly shared their values ​​and personal stories with you, creating an atmosphere that feels “safe” and welcoming?
  • Do you think it is important to voice your story and events so that they can get to know all parts of you?

How do you approach this topic?

First, it doesn’t have to be a scenario where you blurt out, “Guess what? I have bipolar disorder “between main courses and dessert. (Although, if you’re comfortable with doing it this way, it’s entirely up to you.) Here are some examples of (slightly more subtle) alternatives:

Mentioning mental health in the context of your current problems

According to Van Gorp, one way to make it easier to discuss a topic without creating feelings of coercion is to bring them up as you discuss your problems and what you are doing to overcome them. “Link [your mental health problems] to your daily functioning,” he suggests. For example, right now the pandemic is the logical starting point for these discussions, and Van Gorp says you can start with something like, “This COVID really scares me. outside – I still have anxiety – and it only makes it worse. ” Then take it from there.

In a similar vein, Appleton says it can come up when you tell the person you are dating about a problem that has arisen at work, but which you solved well. After mentioning this, you can supplement it with information about your mental health: “Several years ago I did not have such a good place, and I would not have done it as well as I did.”

Incorporate therapy into conversation

An easier way to discuss mental illness with someone you are dating, Appleton said, is to simply say something like “I have therapy today” and let the person ask any additional questions. However, we have to point out that how and when you talk about your mental health is entirely up to you, so you can mention seeing a therapist and answer questions about your mental illness without going into details if you feel most comfortable getting started. out.

In the context of fears and triggers

If you live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can easily be provoked by what others consider normal everyday things, you can discuss this with the person you are dating, Dr. Chio Hernandez , a licensed family therapist, says Lifehacker.

“If there are certain fears or triggers that need to be shared [to make you] feel safe, share them earlier,” Hernandez explains. “It could be something direct, like,“ I’ll sit down so I can see the door, ”or“ If you notice I’m shivering or sweating a little, I just start to worry. A deep breath seems to help. I’m fine.”

As part of the support discussion

When meeting a new person, especially if you are recovering, Hernandez says it’s important for you to be clear about the kind of support you need from the other person. “Set parameters for future dates, such as meeting in a park or museum rather than a bar, and tell your partner about your goal,” she advises. “Asking to be satisfied is a normal part of any healthy relationship.” And if the support you need is related to mental illness, this may be a way to bring it up.

How much detail should you get?

Again, it’s up to you, how comfortable you feel with this person, and whether you see yourself in a relationship with them in the long run. According to Appleton, in the beginning, you only need to go into the details that you feel are necessary, and then reveal them over time as the relationship develops.

And in the end, you can even invite your partner to a therapy session with you. “This meeting does not have to be a typical couples therapy session, but it can be a general informational session where you and your therapist can provide your partner with information about your diagnoses and best practice advice to support you,” Appleton explains.

But when it comes to injury, things can get complicated. For example, Hernandez says she has clients with complex trauma who regularly share too much and too early in a relationship, only to feel even more vulnerable. Meanwhile, she has other clients who share too little, leaving room for misconceptions about behavior, likes, and interests. “Share enough information to reassure your inner vulnerable voice that it’s safe, but not enough to overwhelm yourself or others,” explains Hernandez. “A new partner can be scared to think that they have to fix you.”

Does the type of mental illness matter?

Not only is mental illness itself stigmatized, but there are also certain conditions that are more stigmatized than others. For example, you may feel comfortable talking about how depressed you are, but you may be more careful with diagnoses of personality disorders given that not everyone understands them. “Unfortunately, some people feel ashamed and guilty when talking about personality disorders, addiction and eating disorders because of the stigma surrounding these diseases,” explains Maghawi.

But Lagoy says your diagnosis does affect the way you talk about mental illness with someone you date. “If someone has mild anxiety, this is very different from if someone has a major depressive disorder and is suicidal, or if someone is a narcissist or has borderline personality disorder,” he explains. “The type and severity of each mental illness will affect your relationship differently.”

Bottom line

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that having a mental illness is not a shameful secret. “Rather, it’s an area of ​​diversity that we can protect if we want to,” explains Hernandez. “No one should enter into a new relationship with a diagnosis. Take time to figure out if you can trust your new relationship. The wrong partner can use information against you. The right partner will lift you up for the better, even if the symptoms seem to be winning. “

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