Dating With Mental Illness
By Frank Kermit
The term Mental Illness covers a variety of mental health conditions and disorders. Commonly mental illness will affect and change a person’s mood, emotion, thinking and behaviors (or a combination of these).
Mental illnesses are health conditions; they can be feared and misunderstood by many people but they are nothing to be ashamed of. Mental illness is common, and more common than many people care to admit.
If you have a mental disorder, should you mention it when dating? If so, when do you bring it up? First date? Just before initiating intimacy? Before moving in together? On your online dating profile before you even meet a person?
In order to answer this, you will have to make a choice.
If you are comfortable with the entire world knowing your personal challenges with mental illness, then bring it up on a first date. If you do not care about your privacy in this regard, then there is no point hiding it longer than need be. For example, if you suffered severe depression in the past, and may be prone to having a severe episode in the future, and you do not care who knows about it, then share it in conversation on the first date.
Does it have to be the first thing you say after you say hello? Nope.
But it is something you should tell the person if you see the two of you are getting along, and the best way to bring it up is calmly, and as a matter of fact. For example, you are getting along on the date, have been talking for about an hour, and have found you have a few things in common and decide that you like the person enough that you might like the date to go longer into the night, or even already thinking about a second date.
A way to bring it up, is to calmly and simply mention that there is something you want to talk about, and that you really like the person so far, and you want the person to know this, so that it doesn’t become an issue in the future. Then tell the person about some of the challenges you deal with. A different way you can bring it up, is to ask the person if they have ever dealt with any mental health issues, or know of someone they care about who has.
One of three things will happen. The person will either answer the question and then ask you the same question back, the person may answer the question and not ask you the same question back; or the person will ask you why you are asking. In any case, this would be a good time to talk about your challenges with mental illness.
Something to keep in mind is that you are the ambassador to train people how to treat you. If you behave unsure about your condition, or if you communicate that you are uncomfortable discussing your condition, you may trigger the person you are speaking too to be just as unsure and uncomfortable about you. If you communicate your situation with self-love, and demonstrate that you are accepting of your situation, you will influence others to feel the same way about you.
For this to work, please make sure that you are as knowledgeable about your mental health issues as you can be, and help the person you are dating better support and assist you by clearly communicating your emotional needs, and boundaries (as the case may be).
Now then, if you do NOT want information of your mental illness to become public domain, then you will have to work a little harder at screening the person you are dating to see if they are trustworthy enough to share this information as well as have the capacity of compassion and understanding. This means that during conversations in the early stages of dating, you must test the person by asking them questions that will reveal how they feel about your mental illness without revealing that you have it. For example, if a particular artist or performer has the same mental illness as you, you can start out by a conversation of the album or movie that person appeared on. Lead that conversation from the art, to the person, and mention in casual conversation the mental health issues of that person.
Then gauge the reaction of your date.
If your date talks about coping with mental illness with compassion and understanding, it is a sign you may be able to share secret parts of yourself with that person later on. If your date reacts in a very negative way where you do not feel safe reveal your secret to them, it is a sign you likely should not continue dating the person at all.
For example, if you want to know if the person you are dating can be open to talking about your depression, anxiety and your past suicide attempt, you can start by bringing up your favorite movies starring the late actor Robin Williams. From talking about the movies, to a discussion about the star himself who was publicly known for dealing with mental illness, that tragically took his own life in 2014, how your date reacts and discusses mental health will reveal if you are with a compatible partner. (P.S. I miss Robin Williams, forever my Mork).
Two warnings to the people that need to keep their mental health issues a secret from the people they date.
First warning is not to pay the mind games of getting your date to fall in love with you before telling them. It is manipulative and unethical. Let the person you date be able to make an informed decision before getting too attached to you, and focus on screening your date for compatibility as mentioned above.
The second warning is do not make the mistake of not telling someone that is on the verge of committing to be life partners with you. If you have suffered, or continue to suffer, with mental illness, and you are getting serious with someone, that person should know what challenges they face in being seriously involved with you. Chances are you may find yourself dealing with your struggle in the future, and your life partner should at least know what to expect from you, just as you would want to know something this serious about your life partner.
To anyone reading this that refuses to date someone that has suffered with mental illness, or is at risk, I want to explain something to you. It can happen to anyone, at any point in the life span. There is no guarantee that people who are at risk for mental illness will ever succumb to it in their lifetime. With that said, there is no guarantee that just because someone has never struggled with mental illness before means they will never struggle with it.
Just because someone had a parent that needed medication to cope with mental illness does not automatically means that the person you are dating is going to require the same means to cope with life. Just because the person you are dating has never dealt with panic attacks or depression does not mean that they will not start to deal with them after a traumatic event much later in life. It is that common.
Like ANY physical health issue, it can strike at any point. Whether the result of a bad unforeseeable accident, or resulting after a number of warning signs taking effect, or happening seemingly without cause, it can happen to anyone you are dating, just as it can happen to you.
Treat others with the same compassion and understanding, as you would have them treat you. When it comes to mental illness, this is more applicable as one day, it could very well be you.
I invite you to join me on Wednesday January 25th at 10 pm EST when I take part in Bell Let’s Talk, as a guest on Dr Laurie Betito’s radio program Passion, for their monthly feature Dating Dilemmas where I will talk about Dating with Mental Illness with Dr. Laurie Betito, and co-host Fritz-Gerald Morisseau of https://www.elitespeeddating.com/
The show will be broadcast LIVE in Montreal on CJAD 800 AM (http://www.iheartradio.ca/cjad) as well as broadcast in Toronto on NewsTalk 1010 AM (https://www.iheartradio.ca/newstalk-1010)