Advice for Dating Someone with a Mental Health Issue

Last May, site contributor Ade Ilesanmi wrote an excellent article about dating someone with a mental illness–and you can find that article here. While Ade got us off to a great start, I’d like to discuss this topic even further. As always, if you’re in need of immediate help, please consult a professional or call the suicide prevention hot-line. You can find the number at the bottom of this article.

When you’re dating someone with a mental illness, whether acute or chronic, there’s no one way to deal with it. If you’re the one with the illness, you’ll know how true that is from first-person experience. Add to that both your idiosyncrasies and inadequacies, and you’ve got infinite combinations of neuro-atypical behavior. Therefore, the most important thing you can do for your partner, believe it or not, is relatively selfish:

  • Take care of yourself. Yes, your partner needs your help, but you won’t be very helpful if you have a breakdown in the middle of theirs. A barometer for being in–and staying in–any relationship is how hard the other person makes it to watch out for yourself. Have you eaten, taken a shower recently, remembered to take your own meds? Make sure you don’t get so wrapped up in helping your significant other that you stop taking care of yourself.
  • Communicate. A lot. This is important to any relationship, but when you and/or your partner have mental illnesses, it’s essential that you feel comfortable enough to speak honestly with one another. You should be able to discuss your mental state–if not while struggling through it then surely once you’re feeling a little better. Even, and sometimes especially, discussing your “irrational” thoughts and feelings honestly with your partner is very important for dealing with similar issues in the future. Sometimes simply being able to express those thoughts and feelings helps unlodge them and move on.
  • Try to get ahead of symptoms the best you can. For me, knowing that a depressive spell is on its way is terrifying. It makes my anxiety multiply, and if I’m left to deal with that alone things can get pretty dark. A while ago, I made a list of things that help the anxiety, if not the depression, to settle down before things get too bad. I handed that list to my then-boyfriend, now-fiance, knowing that when I get into moods like those, I tend to shut down. Now he pulls from that list and offers a hot cup of tea, or a netflix marathon of very specific shows, or to leave me alone for a little while. It sounds high-maintenance, and might seem pointless knowing the depression is on its way no matter how well he executes those tasks. But for me, just knowing I don’t have to ask or think about what would work best helps calm down the anxiety and prevents the depression from getting to its darkest depths.It also takes stress off of him, because instead of playing a guessing game he has a much more narrow pool of solutions to pull from.
  • Find your own solutions. For me, the list of remedies comes in major handy. For my fiance, just sitting together quietly helps him. I’ve known folks who take hot baths, walks in the park, trips to the library, eat their favorite foods, or spend time alone with their pets. As I said at the top of this article, no two brains work in exactly the same way. Having a significant other to help you through these scary and awful feelings can help or complicate things, depending on how the two of you handle it. But with some experimentation, and a ton of communication, things can certainly change for the better.

Are there any solutions that you’ve found that I didn’t discuss? Any methods to avoid at all costs? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re ever in a serious situation that you don’t know how to solve, do not hesitate to call upon professional assistance. Know important numbers such as your doctor, your partner’s doctor, and the suicide prevention hot-line. The hot-line is open 24/7 and will talk to those with suicidal thoughts, as well as their loved ones. In the U.S. the number is 1 (800) 273-8255.

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