Should You Date Someone With A Mental Illness?

db - heartA recent study by the UK mental health charity Time To Change found that 57% of single people would not date someone with a mental illness. When the study was published, numerous people tweeted or Facebook messaged me the results, and expressed their disappointment and disgust about the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Being an extremely active mental health advocate, I know that you would never have a problem dating someone with a mental illness,” some of them said.

‘Well . . .’ I replied. ‘It would depend on the situation.’

They were shocked.

‘What! Why not? You’re a mental health advocate! How can you, of all people, say that you may have a problem dating someone who’s mentally ill? You’re such a hypocrite!’

 

I’m not a hypocrite, and I would never stigmatise someone for being sick. But at the same time, the truth is that it’s not always a good idea to date someone with a mental illness.

And that’s not stigmatising the person in question.

That’s just taking care of yourself.

 

Below I break down three common situations, and talk about why in each one I either would or wouldn’t date a person with a mental illness.

 

Situation #1: The girl has a mental illness, but she’s stable and has it under control

 

Mental illness is treatable, and if the girl in question had sought help for her illness and had learned how to manage it such that it had minimal or no impact on her life, then I’d feel privileged to date her. To not do so in this particular situation would be to stigmatise her – i.e. treat her differently just because she has a mental illness.

 

Situation #2: The girl has a mental illness, she is NOT stable and does NOT have it under control, but she’s doing the right things to try and get better

 

Let’s call a spade a spade – until the person manages to recover, dating someone in this situation is going to be a rollercoaster. I know because I’ve been the mentally ill one in a relationship, and I’ve also been the healthy one dating someone who’s mentally ill. When you’re trapped in the throes of a mental illness, you tend to be unstable and erratic, and when you’re in that state, it usually leads to a lot of fighting, drama and stress – which of course can be very exhausting and taxing to deal with.

My position in such an instance would be this: if I really liked the girl, then I would still keep dating her. This is because, as I qualified above, she’s doing the right things to try and get better – which means that she’d be taking medication, committing herself to therapy, reading self-help books, eating well, sleeping well and exercising frequently. If she was doing things like this and I really liked her, then I’d definitely still love to date her, because all the drama would be temporary. Since she’s doing the right things to beat her illness, then over time, she eventually would. If I really liked her, then I’d be more than happy to go through the messy stuff with her and do everything in my power to help her get better.

In saying that, however, I can understand how some people might not want to date someone in that position. Not everyone has a propensity to deal with such difficulties – even if those difficulties are likely to be temporary because the mentally ill party is receiving treatment. And I don’t think that’s being prejudiced or discriminatory. That’s just the reality. We all have our tastes and preferences in potential suitors, and I don’t think it’s fair to play the stigma card just because someone would rather date a person who’s not mentally unstable.

 

Situation #3: The girl has a mental illness, she is NOT stable and does NOT have it under control, and furthermore, she is NOT doing the right things to try and get better

 

In such a case, the drama I spoke of in situation #2, instead of fading after a while because the girl’s getting treatment, would in all likelihood never end – because the reality is that if you don’t get treatment, then you’ll never recover. So the question then becomes, would I want to date someone who’s always going to be unstable?

And the answer is: absolutely not.

And that’s not because I’m stigmatising her.

That’s because I’m trying to protect myself.

I’ve been in this position before. She was a great girl, but she refused to get treatment for her depression. We had some good times, but more often than not, our relationship was strenuous and exhausting. Some nights she’d call me at four in the morning needing me to talk her out of suicide. Other nights she’d call me slurring into the phone because she’d gotten drunk alone in her apartment. She’d often get irritable and start fights over nothing. Other times she’d feel so insecure that I’d have to spend hours trying to convince her that, yes, I did find her attractive, that yes, I did think she was funny, that yes, I did think she was interesting, that yes, I did think she was . . . etcetera, etcetera. For months I tried to convince her to reach out for help, but she always made up an excuse. Over time I grew more and more drained, and eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I realised that she was always going to be this way, and that if I stayed with her, she’d just continue to drag me down with her. So sadly, I left.

Yes, I left her because of her mental illness.

And in such a case, I wasn’t discriminating against her, nor was I being prejudiced. I tried my best to save her, and once I realised I couldn’t, I chose to save myself. I don’t think it’s fair to blame anyone for doing that.

 

So . . . what should you do?

 

If the person you’ve just started dating discloses to you that they have a mental illness, don’t stigmatise them and immediately end the relationship. Instead, read up on their illness so that you know more about it, and ask them how they’re handling it. Ask them how far along the road to recovery they are. Ask them what they’re doing to try and get better. From there, you’ll be able to better decide how you want to proceed with the relationship.

Now, if you’re the one with the mental illness, then I’d advise you to honestly ask yourself which of the above categories you fall in to.

If it’s the first, and someone doesn’t want to date you once you tell them you have a mental illness, then shame on them. You deserve better.

If it’s the second and they reject you, then I think it’s more of a compatibility thing: you’re not right for them because they’re not able to handle your current condition, and they’re not right for you for the same reason – so you’re better off without them anyway.

On the other hand, if you fall into the third category and someone rejects you, then you’re kidding yourself if you blame stigma. The person in question is not rejecting you because they’re being a prejudicial asshole – they’re rejecting you because you’re not fit to be in a healthy relationship, and because you’re not seeking treatment, there’s nothing to suggest that you ever will be.

I know that may sound harsh, but it is the truth.

So please, if you’re in this position, then do yourself a favour and reach out for help. You deserve to be happy and in a loving relationship, so take that first step and give yourself a chance to let it happen.

 

~~~

 

If you enjoyed reading this post, I encourage you to download a FREE copy of my memoir by clicking on the book cover image below. Recounting my struggle and eventual triumph over depression, I wrote it so that sufferers of the illness could realise they are not alone – that there are other people out there who have gone through the same excruciating misery, and who have made it through to the other side. I also wrote it so that I could impart the lessons I learned on the long, rocky, winding road that eventually led to recovery – so that people could learn from my mistakes as well as my victories – particularly with regards to relationships; substance abuse; choosing a fulfilling career path; seeking professional help; and perhaps most importantly, having a healthy and positive attitude towards depression that enables recovery. Multiple-bestselling author Nick Bleszynski has described it as “beautifully written, powerful, heartfelt, insightful and inspiring … a testament to hope.”   

10 thoughts on “Should You Date Someone With A Mental Illness?

  1. I thought this was interesting, I’m not sure though, looking back if I would have continued our relationship had I known. You see, my boyfriend was ill, very ill as it turned out. He didn’t let on how depressed he was, I knew he was very blue, but I didn’t realise how far it had gone. He took his own life last year. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t see it that evening before he left and went home..I wish I had known, I would have spoken to him, encouraged him to get help, but I didn’t know how bad it was. He hid it very well.
    Sometimes I feel cross with him, and sometimes I feel guilty that I didn’t see it … it’s just horrible.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that, Karen. It’s a very difficult situation to be in. I think the best thing to do is to do whatever you can to get your partner help. But if you’ve tried everything you can and they’re not will to save themselves, then I think it’s best to save yourself.

      With regards to your partner, I don’t think you need to feel guilty. Depression is an invisible illness, and people become masters at hiding it from everyone. It’s not your fault that you didn’t see it. There’s nothing more that you could have done. Try to go easy on yourself xx

  2. Throught provoking is putting it mildly.

    I keep thinking of what the psychiater said when she first told us she thought our son had schizofrenia. I stammered: ‘..but.. so.. he will nevery marry and..’ and she said: ‘That is not something you would wish to happen to any girl.’

  3. Whilst I appreciate everything you have said, (in that I see where you are coming from) I have to say I completely disagree. Whilst looking after yourself when you are close to someone who suffers from a mental illness is important, if you love someone then you should not be ‘put off’ by the fact that they are mentally ill. Would you do the same with a physical illness?

    Big fan of yours, just disagree completely on this occasion :-)

    • I didn’t say I’d be ‘put off’ if they were mentally ill (see categories 1 and 2) – but if they’re not making any attempt to seek treatment for it and that was ruining my life, yes, I’d get out – in exactly the same way I would if they had a physical illness that was ruining my life and they were refusing to get treatment for it.

  4. Found this really interesting. Just wondered your thoughts on being with somebody who constantly veers between the 2nd & 3rd situation? Acknowledges the illness, takes medication but still drinks too much & works too hard. Also, we are married with 4 kids so leaving is not really an option. There are good periods where I feel progress is made & then bad ones where I feel drained & frustrated. Is self preservation still the key or do I stick it out for my husband (who I love & is my best friend) & hope we both survive unbroken?

    • It’s up to you, J – I can’t really make that call. If it was me and I DIDN’T have kids, I’d get out. Having kids obviously complicates things, so in that case I’d just keep trying to get him to seek help.

  5. My partner and I both have mental health issues which we had both worked hard to manage – then we met and the attraction and love was incredibly powerful but the relationship opened up a whole new suite of fears obsessions and depressions – we are once again seeking help and desperately want to make it work – but I am worried we might be a lethal combination.

  6. Hey Danny

    It’s a tough one. I’m in the second category in that l am still trying recover but doing all the right things. Lovely girlfriend and am telling her what’s going but not everything cause I save that for therapy and my doctor. I hide it pretty well as well. I feel I deserve to be as happy as anyone so I don’t want to give up on this cause I am ill. She is very supportive. I don’t lash out it get angry. I am probably a bit needy but not overtly. Overall she gives me a very good reason to keep battling on!

    But I have had a relationship that need last year because of this but I was fine cause it wasn’t love. But you need to be with someone who has compassion and patience. But if you find that person then you know your on a winner!

    Thanks

    Mike

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