Although dating relationships in which one partner has a mental illness are not often spoken about, we know that such relationships can’t be all that unusual since one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness[i] and more than 25% of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year[ii]. Given that dating and relationships are a huge part of college and mental illnesses affect folks in various but impactful ways, it’s not surprising there are some specific considerations for dating when you have a mental illness.
Here are some tips for folks with mental illness navigating the dating world!
- On Disclosure
Remember that you are more than your illness and that it does not define you. Give your partner a chance to get to know other parts of you before disclosing your illness. Check out this article on Strength of Us for more on disclosure of mental illness in relationships.
Once you choose to disclose, don’t assume your partner will understand everything about your illness, how it affects you, or how you’re handling it. You can advocate for yourself by being open with your partner about how they can support you and seeking out professional help when you need it.
Taking care of yourself and adhering to any treatment regime a professional has laid out for you is not only good for you, but can also be good for your relationship. Being your best self on your own is important for anyone, whether or not they have a mental illness, before entering a relationship. Check out the counseling and medication management available for students at UNC’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and these self-care tips from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
- Don’t Settle
Having a mental illness does not make you less of a person or any less worthy of a happy, fulfilling relationship than anyone else. Don’t settle for an unhealthy or unhappy relationship because you think your illness lessens your value as a partner and what you have to offer.
If the relationship ends, know that a tough breakup may exacerbate the symptoms of your illness. You can help buffer this by asking for help when you need it, reaching out for resources, and keeping in mind that although breakups can be hurtful and difficult to transition, it will get better.
Check out this article by Arthur Gallant about his experience as an adult with Bipolar Disorder in the dating world. If you have a mental illness and are thinking about exploring online dating, you may want to check out one of the numerous online dating sites specifically for folks with chronic physical or mental illness.
For information on how abusive relationships specifically impact folks with mental illness, check out this mental illness and relationship abuse fact sheet from Safe Place, in Austin, TX.
[i] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (n.d.). Mental health: What a difference student awareness makes. Retrieved from http://www.stopstigma.samhsa.gov/publications/collegelife.aspx?printid=1&.
[ii] American College Health Association (2012). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2012. Retrieved from http://www.acha-ncha.org/docs/ACHA-NCHA-II_ReferenceGroup_ExecutiveSummary_Spring2012.pdf.