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Sail Past The Stigma - A Guide To Dating With Mental Illness

By Somdutta Mazumder

Updated - Jan. 22, 2020 12 min read

Navigating the turbulent world of dating in the 21st century is a challenge in itself, and when the dating equation involves an individual with mental illness or mental health concerns, the challenge levels up even further. Whether you are someone who is battling mental illness or someone falling for an individual with psychological concerns, the process of dating can become convoluted and confusing, when emotional instability and mental health disorders get involved. 


We are living in a country wherein 7.5% of the population suffers from some form of mental illness, yet the umbrella term used by most folks to refer to people with mental health difficulties is "crazy" or some equally offensive derivative. Regardless of whether its depression, anxiety or borderline personality disorder, the lack of awareness within the community about mental health difficulties is staggering and makes things immensely difficult for those looking for love and acceptance, especially in a romantic relationship.


Image Courtesy - Pexels 


Yes, mental health difficulties can be painful and debilitating, but it doesn't mean you have to give up on the idea of finding love! Bearing in mind the unique challenges that crop up when mental health issues get thrown into the already complicated mix of dating, we have compiled a list of important pointers you and your partner need to be mindful of! 


Things To Remember If You Have Mental Health Concerns And Want To Date 


Your Partner Is Not The Cure To Your Life Problems

One of the most commonly adopted mindsets of individuals struggling with mental health concerns is viewing a romantic relationship as the one-stop solution to all their life challenges and difficulties. A significant pointer to bear in mind when you're dating with depression or anxiety is to foster a relationship with someone because you truly have feelings for them, and not just because dating distracts you from focusing on your issues as an individual.


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Keep Unrealistic Expectations From Bae At Bay 

Your partner is just another human being with his/her own faults and imperfections, and not a superhero slash free therapist. Don't nurture unrealistic expectations such as them magically knowing when you're feeling low, or them making extravagant gestures to sweep you off your feet. Contrary to what popular culture might lead you to believe, your struggles with mental health don't guarantee that you will find the guy of your fantasies waiting right outside your porch, and quite frankly, such a perfect guy probably doesn't even exist. Instead, you are likely to find someone just as flawed, and hence being realistic with your expectations is a mandate for a healthy dating experience. 


Image Courtesy - Bustle 


Your Partner Will Not Realise What You're Feeling Till You Tell Them

Linking it up with the above pointer of keeping realistic expectations, dating with depression or any other mental health concern, requires honest, timely and transparent communication. Especially if your romantic relationship has just started to blossom, expecting your partner to be aware of every mood or feeling that you experience, is neither viable nor fair. Your partner won't instinctually know how you're feeling and why you're feeling that way, you'll have to be patient and explain your feelings in a non-confrontational manner. 


Image Courtesy - Daily Mail


You Are Way More Than Just Your Mental Health Difficulties 

Regardless of your experiences in the world of dating and romance, one important thing to bear in mind is that you're much more than just the sum of your mental health difficulties. You're not a depressed person, you are a person who is suffering from depression. There are multiple nuances to your personality and life, most of which go way beyond than the psychological problems you're experiencing. So don't be unfair to yourself by projecting only one aspect of your life. 


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Your Partner Is Not An Outlet For Your Negative Emotions

Very, very important. If you wish to talk it out with your partner and walk them through your feelings in a healthy way, ain't nothing wrong with that. But if you start viewing your partner as your personal punching bag, rest assured the relationship will eventually go downhill. Even if the challenges of your life seem much more intense than your neuro-typical partner's, that is no excuse to unleash all your negative feelings on them. It is important to be mindful of your partner's feelings who is equally prone to being hurt by your words and actions. 


Image Courtesy - Nick Notas 


Remember To Take Care Of Yourself While Taking Care Your Relationship 

Yes, dating is exciting, and the temptation to ignore every other aspect of your life while the overwhelming feeling of love consumes you whole is difficult to oppose. But this is when the processes of prioritising and compartmentalisation become especially relevant. Your relationship might demand a significant proportion of your time and attention, and while it is okay to give in to that, it is also important to remember the person you owe all of that to the most, yourself! 


Image Courtesy - Heart Support 


Take Time Out When Your Mental Health Struggles Reach Extremes

Dating with depression is different from dating as a neurotypical individual, especially when you take into account the possibility of negative occurrences in your relationship taking a toll on your already compromised psychological well-being. When you begin to feel saturated and can see your mental health disorder symptoms getting magnified due to negative romantic experiences, the best course of action for both you and your partner would involve taking a step back to get a grip on what is happening.


Image Courtesy - Good Center 


You Don't Need To Chase Toxic Relationships For The Sake Of Having Someone 

Having a constant person you always rely on, can be a tremendous source of support and help during dark times, but it is definitely not a prerequisite to the process of healing. If you feel like you aren't being treated the way you deserve to be, you do not, we repeat, do not need to put up with a relationship simply because the alternative of being single seems sadder. You don't need to tolerate poor behaviour any more than a neurotypical does! 


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You Are Somebody, Before Somebody's 

So, so important, especially when your mental health problems begin to distort your self-perception. As an individual afflicted by disorders like depression and anxiety, it is easy to lose track of your own role in your life. You begin to hand the reigns of your life to someone else, simply because your sense of self-importance becomes distorted, and you no longer consider yourself as the hero of your own story. Well, its time to remind yourself. You have your own unique identity, regardless of whether you are in a relationship with someone or not. 


Image Courtesy - Haven Wood Academy


Mental Health Difficulties Are Not An Excuse For Hurtful Behaviour

Yes, the negative feelings and emotions might get overwhelming sometimes, but that is no excuse for you to treat your partner poorly, or engage in behaviours you yourself wouldn't like to be at the receiving end of. Sometimes when you're dating with depression, you begin to view your partner as a safe outlet for your anger and frustration, spurred on by the assumption that they'll somehow understand. The truth is, even if they do, this understanding might not be able to undo the damage inflicted by your cruel words or actions. 


Image Courtesy - Psychology Today 


Things To Remember If You Are Dating Someone With Mental Illness 


Your Primary Job Is Not To "Fix" Them

No matter how much you wish to, or try to, the truth of the matter is you can't cure someone of a mental illness, any more than you can a physical illness. And the logic for both remains the same, it's because you're not trained to. So if you're dating someone with depression, don't go into the relationship expecting to transform your partner's life because you're just setting each other up for disappointment. Be clear about your boundaries as an individual, but that being said, don't neglect your partner either.


Image Courtesy - Inspiring Tips 


Don't Suppress Your Feelings For The Fear Of Hurting Them

Yes, they're struggling with a bunch of issues currently and anything you say can be misconstrued as a trigger, but a relationship built on half-truths and blatant lies is not likely to stand tall for long. Regardless of the intensity of the mental health difficulties that your partner might be experiencing, if you want this to work, both of you will have to be honest with each other, and make it a point to practice transparent communication. Tell them when and why something bothers you in a non-confrontational manner, and watch your relationship only blossom further. 


Image Courtesy - Elite Daily


You Can Only Help Someone As Long As They Want To Help Themselves 

This is the most important fact you are required to remember when you opt for a formal education in psychology, and it stands true in the context of every human relationship. If you think your partner can significantly improve the quality of their life only if they just put some effort into it, it really doesn't matter. Unless this thought comes intrinsically to your partner, it is highly likely that they won't be motivated enough to change things, and that's just something you'll have to make peace with. That being said, your support and encouragement still matters tremendously, but it is advisable to simmer down with your expectations. 


Image Courtesy - Medical News Daily 


Sometimes, They Just Need You To Listen 

A lot of the times, when a person struggling with mental health difficulties and concerns starts complaining or ranting, they aren't really looking for advice or a long counselling session. Instead, they are looking for a pair of patient listening ears, ones that will let them speak their heart out without interrupting or making comments. So don't put too much pressure on yourself trying to come up with a profound response, instead just offer your undivided attention and concentration. 


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Your Boundaries As An Individual Are Still Applicable

We cannot, and we repeat, cannot emphasise this pointer enough. In any relationship between two people, whether romantic or otherwise, both the parties should consider themselves as two distinct individuals first and a couple later. Regardless of how difficult things might be for your partner, your boundaries as an individual will always apply. If you aren't okay with somebody commenting on your body, the presence of a mental health disorder doesn't suddenly grant your partner the permission to go ahead with body shaming. Be clear and vocal about your boundaries, and explicitly spell out any behaviour that tends to make you uncomfortable if you don't want it to be repeated. 


Image Courtesy - Reader's Digest



Don't Label Them As Crazy Or Psycho 

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Your partner might be experiencing an overwhelming amount of negative emotions, and yes, arguments can sometimes get a bit too intense for comfort, but no amount of anger or frustration warrants you attaching inaccurate, and damaging labels such as crazy or psycho to their condition. Not only can these labels seriously undermine what your partner might be going through, but they also create a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy. What does that mean? It means people who are called crazy, tend to act crazy in order to conform to their reputation. 


Image Courtesy - Washington Post 


Research And Gather Knowledge About Your Partner's Mental Health Disorder 

If you've never had any substantial exposure to mental illness, feeling lost, confused and unaware when you first confront it in your romantic partner is an absolutely natural response. However, if it's been a couple of months since you've been dating them, there has to be some progress in your understanding of their condition. Cues and communication will only work for so long if you don't exert some effort into researching on your own. Start reading up about their mental health disorder using online and offline sources to gain an understanding of potential triggers, underlying factors and helpful mitigating strategies. 


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Compromise Is Key, Sacrifice Is Not 

Mental health disorders or not, no relationship in your life should make you feel drained because of how much you give and how little you receive in return. You're not your partner's shrink or their personal assistant or even a parental figure, what you are though, is their romantic partner, and you deserve to be treated as such. Without reciprocation, any romantic relationship can start taking a toll on your own mental health, which will be quite counter-productive for both the parties involved. Practice compromise, and go easy on the self-sacrifice. You're not Mother Teresa. 


Image Courtesy - Bustle 


The Standard Rules Of A Romantic Relationship Still Apply

Just because you're factoring in mental health difficulties in the equation, does not mean the foundational rules of a romantic relationship no longer apply. Whether its depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder that your partner is afflicted with, they still owe you basic respect, honesty and solid loyalty. So no, cheating is not okay, regardless of how depressed, cynical or masochistic your partner might have been feeling! We are simply asking you to acknowledge problematic behaviours, forgiving your partner for them is your sole decision that comes later. 


Image Courtesy - ABC Malucha 


Don't Drag The Relationship Just Because You Feel Obligated To 

Again, just because an individual is struggling with psychological concerns, does not mean you have an unspoken obligation to be with them for as long as they want. If you're really not feeling it anymore, it's best to clearly communicate as much to the person you're seeing. Not only will continuing the relationship halfheartedly be unfair to your partner, you'll also be doing injustice to yourself! Neurotypical or otherwise, everybody deserves to be with someone they absolutely adore. 


Image Courtesy - Judith McFarland 

Whenever mental health issues get thrown into the mix of human emotions and relationships, the journey that awaits is not an easy one by any standards. Both dating with depression and dating someone with depression, require truckloads of patience, emotional maturity and awareness as well as empathy. If you think you like someone enough to accept both their easy and difficult sides, a little bit of effort and consideration can nurture your relationship substantially! 


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