Dating Someone with a Mental Illness
Mental illness is something that millions of people all over the world suffer from on a daily basis. This health condition can be incredibly debilitating depending on the variation of mental illness that is afflicting your loved one, and you might find yourself pretty confused when they start acting strange or distant. If you are dating someone with mental illness, you will need to know these five realities so you can be ready for when the symptoms and behavior arise.
1. Sometimes you just can’t help them feel better
Mental illness is a tricky thing. While “mental illness” or “mental health conditions” come in many forms, some of the most common are depression, acute anxiety and bipolar disorder. These illnesses can come with a wide variety of symptoms, including bouts of extreme sadness, anxiety or other intense emotions, inability to cope with everyday life and more.
For someone experiencing these symptoms in a loved one for the first time, the sudden intensity in which these symptoms appear can be quite alarming. You will probably be wondering “What is going on? Why is he/she so angry/sad all of a sudden?” While the symptoms may be confusing, it is important to remember that despite your best efforts, sometimes you just can’t help.
It is in our nature to try to help those that we love, but the fact is, mental health is a complex and multi-faceted part of being human, and one that is best left to professionals. While you should certainly still be there for your loved one when their symptoms are in effect, understand that may be the only thing you can do. Sometimes, that makes all the difference, and sometimes it is just nice for the afflicted person to have someone there.
2. You might need professional assistance
In those instances where you “just being there” isn’t enough and symptoms start to worsen, you may want to consider getting some professional help for your loved one. Dating someone with depression can be challenging, and sometimes mental illness can take a turn for the worse if left unchecked; especially with conditions like depression. Did you know that major depressive disorder affects more than 16 million U.S. adults, and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages?
If that is not startling enough, the numbers seem to be on the rise. This means you will likely run into or even date someone who is experiencing a mental health condition; making it all the more important to know when a professional needs to be involved.
Ideally, anyone suffering from a mental health condition will have a professional at their disposal to offer hope and guidance, but with the complexity of the healthcare system and the very nature of these illnesses, not everyone seeks help when they should. If symptoms suddenly take a turn for the worse, or suicide/self-harm is mentioned or attempted, immediately seek the help of a mental health professional and alert the afflicted person’s family.
Be prepared to deal with denial, resentment and all manner of responses from the family. Unfortunately, mental health is something that is still stigmatized, and many families react poorly when informed that their daughter/son is afflicted.
3. Their mood could change at any time
Especially with conditions like bipolar disorder, the afflicted person’s mood can change on a dime. Even depression has been known to create sudden angry outbursts, often scaring the people around the afflicted. It is important to understand and recognize this as a symptom of the disease when it occurs.
If your boyfriend or girlfriend is lashing out, having mood swings or acting in a way that is concerning or confusing, the best thing to do is to stay calm. This is easier said than done when things are going haywire, but the more calm and stable you remain, the easier it will be to ride out the storm. In fact, when you remain calm and collected, people generally pick up on it and become calm themselves.
If the outbursts include any form of violence, whether toward you, objects around you or directly to the person having the outburst, you will want to get in contact with police and mental health professionals immediately. While you should care for the safety of the afflicted person, you also have to consider your own personal safety. If you are injured, you can’t help anyone else.
4. You are probably going to take it personally
Whether it is the first or the 14th time you have witnessed your significant other lashing out at you, your natural instinct is going to be to take it personally. This is a perfectly reasonable response; after all, the person you love just said some terrible things to you in the heat of the moment.
It is important to remember that mental health symptoms range in intensity and what kinds of things will occur, and the lashing out is not a personal attack. Those with certain mental health conditions sometimes lash out; out of fear, anxiety and a whole lot of confusion going on in their brain. The more you can guard yourself against those feelings of personal persecution, the easier those outbursts will be to navigate in the future.
5. People might not believe you
The final, very sad reality of dating someone with mental illness is that people may not believe you when you describe symptoms and behaviors. Unfortunately, mental health conditions are still incredibly stigmatized in the U.S., and it can be difficult to talk about what you are experiencing with someone who has never seen it.