When it comes to dating someone with a mental health condition, it is a good idea to do is find out more about what their condition is and especially what it means for them and what their experience of it is like. Communicate as openly as you can, letting them explain what they struggle with, as well as the techniques that can help them best. However, make sure not to push them too hard, only discussing what they are comfortable with and leaving the more sensitive issues until a better time. The more you know, the more support you will be able to offer. If the person you are dating is seeing a therapist, it could be a good idea to join one of the meetings, provided that the person is comfortable with it and it suits their treatment plan.
The issue with mental illness is that the person often doesn’t look ill, and it makes it harder for us to comprehend their condition. We don’t tell a person with a broken leg to go for a walk, but people with mental illness face such situations every day, with people advising them to ‘get over it’ or not understanding what is bothering them.
It can sometimes be difficult to understand why someone suffering with a mental health conditions thinks or feels the way they do, so make sure to ask and actually listen. For many people struggling with mental health, thoughts can become so crowded and tangled that even they don’t know what’s necessarily bothering them, so simply listening to them can help in organising their thoughts and making them feel calmer. Encourage them to talk about their feelings if they are willing – many people stay quiet, which can only make them feel worse.
If you are dating someone who has a mental disorder, you are likely to see them on their best and worst days. When it comes to mental health, there is an array of emotions that a person can experience, from feeling detached or aloof, to sad or manic with joy. Instead of getting frustrated and irritated by this, you should try and remain patient and calm and most importantly, remember that they are not defined by their condition and that episodes will pass and should they need your help that you are available to talk and listen.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, a trigger is something that can set off a negative response, whether angry, sad, anxious or similar, in your partner. It is important that you learn to recognise these triggers and know how to handle an episode when it occurs, or how to avoid the trigger. This will make it easier for you to stay calm whenever an episode occurs, and will in turn, make your partner calmer. A good idea can be to use a “time out card”, if one of you feels that they cannot cope with the situation or needs help. Alternatively, you can decide about a code word you can both use, to avoid conflict or that signals help.
Keep them company
Recent research by the University of Oxford found that people with big circles of friends had higher pain thresholds and this is something that can be easily applied to mental health. Hanging out with friends and loved ones increases levels of endorphins, making the person happy, as well as distracting them from their worries. If a friend or loved one is feeling particularly unstable, ask them if they would like to do something, whether with just you or a bigger group of friends. However, as you try and get them out and about, keep the below in mind…
Don’t push them too hard
One of the problems with mental health issues is that they can leave people feeling absolutely exhausted. If someone you know suffers from conditions like anxiety or depression, it is likely that they are often in a hyper-tense state, both physically and mentally, which can be absolutely exhausting. It is important to remember this if you are trying to make your loved one do more and be more active, they can sometimes be too tired as opposed to just unwilling. If someone is going through treatment, they often face backlash and obstacles as their treatment progress (one step forward, two steps back), which is why it is important for you to encourage your date to stick with it.
In any relationship, whenever one partner shares their thoughts and beliefs with the other, it is important to listen and know that what they are saying is important to them, even if you might not see it in the same way. Those who experience mental health conditions can question, doubt and even de-value themselves, so when they speak to you about something that is important to them, support them and confirm that what they say is important and valid.
Focus on the positives
When your loved one is going through a particularly difficult and challenging episode, which is having an impact on your relationship, it can be difficult to remember, let alone see, the positives. However, at times like these it is important to remind yourself why you’re with this person, the good times you have and that the episode will pass eventually. If possible, help the person break patterns and do things that might be fun or distracting (just bear in mind not to push them too hard). For instance, depression makes people isolate themselves, as a result making them more depressed.
It’s not always you
When your partner has a mental health condition, you should know that it is likely that they had the condition before they met you and have been coping with it for a long time. If they need space, don’t take it personally and understand that a little space can make all the difference in a relationship. Similarly, if they happen to snap at you out of thin air, it isn’t about you and it isn’t really them, but their condition. Remember that you’re not the therapist and professional here. And you cannot change someone else. Instead, encourage and support the person to seek help.
Take care of yourself
If you are dating someone with a mental health condition, you might feel that you should always be there for them, offering support and reassurance whenever necessary. This is not the case, as health boundaries are very important in this situation – while you should support the person you are dating, you shouldn’t abandon your own emotional needs. When you start feeling overwhelmed or stressed, make sure to take some me-time and do something you enjoy. It is always better to take a step back and relax, as being stressed around anyone can in turn make them stressed or unhappy, which sets off an unhealthy chain for both of you.