Dating is Hard, Mental Health Stigma Can Make it Harder

Men and women may approach telling their partner differently.

10.18.16
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Dating and relationships are super easy, a legit breeze. That’s why you’ll be thrilled to learn that according to a new study by Psych Guides, there is another thing you could be doing all wrong: not revealing your mental health diagnosis early enough.

Have you ever encountered or mulled this particular threshold? Of the 2,000 respondents in the study, 64% reported suffering from a mental illness (44% of which fell under the category of anxiety or depression), which means more than half of us have a new timeline to consider alongside other important stuff like when we DTR (define the relationship) or reveal our less clinical diagnoses (which we’ve discussed before).

The study revealed something else: There is a divide among genders in how they approach the topic. Of those surveyed, 73.5% of women in relationships said their partner was aware of their mental illness, versus 52% of men. That’s a sizable difference. And the most common timeline for everyone was between one and six months.

It’s interesting, no? The numbers (which, in an idealized version of society, would be 100% because there is nothing to be ashamed of) speak to a few different social stigmas — mental illness in general and emotional vulnerability for men. On the flip side, when men did reveal their mental illness to a partner, they felt more supported than women. “Women overall appeared to be less likely than men to be be supported by partners when dealing with mental health conditions compared to men,” explained Pysch Guides. “This may show that women have a slightly greater willingness to help their partners in coping with mental health issues than men are to support their partners.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m curious to hear about your experiences. How has mental health played a role in your relationships, past or current? Have you discussed it early on? Waited? Kept it a secret?

Photo via iStock.

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  • Leah

    My boyfriend and I discussed our mental health issues within ten minutes of our first date. He instigated it, saying he had “issues” and wasn’t “normal”. I told him to give it his best shot and that his issues were probably nothing compared to mine. I then spilled my darkest thoughts and most closely guarded personal feelings to him.

    For the record I’d never done that before. In past relationships it took months to open up and even after that I mostly never felt supported. But this time it felt right and ever since then we’ve maintained the honesty and we talk about all of our mental health issues in depth as they arise. We may not cure each other but it definitely makes everything easier to handle when you know you’re not handling it alone.

    • Haley Nahman

      That’s such a nice anecdote, thanks for sharing

  • Max

    Tbh this is my biggest insecurity in dating. In early stages, a lot of my brain space is consumed with worrying that my ~~potential man~~ will make the connection that I’m never available on Monday evenings and I’ll have to either (a) lie or (b) reveal that I see my therapist Mondays before I am ready to divulge that information.

    • Leandra Medine

      do you think seeing a therapist is still taboo?

      • Max

        Unfortunately, for a lot of people, I think it still is. I wouldn’t want to date someone who was judgmental of me seeing a therapist, but I also don’t want to share my mental health history with someone before mutual respect/trust has been established and I feel comfortable with that person. That’s just me personally, though! I am also a fairly private person in all aspects of my life.

        • Mariana

          Hi Max! I get you, when I was in therapy I didn’t tell anyone I was there (I was “working late”, “shopping”, etc) because I felt that people would perceive me as broken, even close ones. One thing: I am, also, very private person about everything, I was never the girl that felt the need to call a friend to talk about things, even though I consider I have good friends and they many times open up with me (is just not natural in me to open up, but is a “muscle” I am trying to develop). Do you think is a common thing in people with mental disorders that trait?

          • Max

            I don’t know! I’ve always been a private person, but I think that how I was raised played a large role in that as well. I frequently mention seeing a therapist in passing and talk to my friends about my sessions, so I’m not sure why I feel more of a ‘hang up’ when it comes to telling people I am dating. Maybe I should talk to my therapist about it! I will say, though, certain topics I only talk about with my closest friends, who I have v established, trusting relationships with. But again, I don’t know if that is j me/the environment I was raised in, or if it is directly related to my mental health.

  • Court E. Thompson

    I started opening up to my boyfriend about my depression about two months into the relationship. (After I knew he liked me). He was kind of weird about it at first, so I didn’t talk about it much. But as time went on, he became really supportive of me, making sure I made it to therapy, etc. A big part of this, however, is that since we don’t yet live together, he doesn’t see the middle-of-the-night meltdowns and thinks that I am just messy, not that I have no energy to clean or take care of myself. So I guess we’ll see how that goes…

    • Haley Nahman

      Good luck to you two!!

  • I used to lead with my and my family’s mental health history (and the traumatic experiences that come with it) when I was younger, mostly because I was still living it. I felt incredibly defined by it all.

    My boyfriend and I hung out platonically for a couple of months before we got drunk and made out one night. I sobered up by the time it was time for 3am pierogi in Veselka and had a grand 22-year old’s monologue about why I was different than the other girls he’s met before me. He didn’t seem too phased despite having no first hand experience with mental disorders, abuse, depression, and PTSD. Or maybe he was drunk. Either way, I’ve spoke about my father’s and sister’s issues at length the past five years.

    But I’ve never gone into my own history with severe depression. I’ve mentioned in passing that I took medication as a teen, but I didn’t detail the mental breakdown, suicidal ideations, and hospitalization that led to the prescription. I never told him that I had passive suicidal ideations of jumping in front of the subway the first year we were dating.

    I don’t talk about it because after 15 years, I’m fine now. Shell-shocked, but fine. My eyes are still getting accustomed to the clarity and light around me, but I’m fine. My personal situation seems to have resolved with a change of environment, time, and age. (I now truly believe that the brain really does take up to age 25 to fully develop.) My history and interpretation of what happened is private, and I don’t want someone’s unintentional stigma to taint it.

  • Danielle Turney

    My ex moved into my one bedroom apartment with me after 7 months of dating. I was “just sooooo happy” with him that I decided then would be a good time to cut out my psychiatric meds (my doctor was aware). Cue subsequent mental breakdown/me crying every other minute/unable to leave the house/ etc. etc.. While my ex was made aware of my comorbid psychiatric disorders shortly after we began dating, he never witnessed anything veering into the clinical in full swing. Cue him calling me “crazy” and me drinking a lot of French 77s alone in bed. Cue him moving out two months later without telling me or even saying goodbye.

    And I’m the crazy one.

    • Haley Nahman

      OOF. I’m sorry 🙁

  • Kirsten Olson

    I told my ex about my struggles with depression after a year of dating and in the midst of deciding to move in together. He told me he “would have rather deal with [me] having cancer than depression”. Umm..Ouch. In a bizarre and poorly thought out turn of events, we still moved in and stayed together another year but I never got past that conversation (likely because he never apologized for it and just ignored me whenever I was on a downswing).

    Despite his horrible reaction and feeling of betrayal it caused, I am glad I came forward and am actually more open to discussing this with future boyfriends out of fairness to both them and myself. I would like to know if I can count my BF as a support system and also it’s important for him to be aware of something that has played a large role in my life

  • Paula Suzanne

    Im not surprised by this at all. In the past, I have definitely been dumped for being “crazy” and “emotional,” when really I was struggling with bipolar disorder that had been misdiagnosed as depression. I think being in that position introduced a lot of abuse into my relationships – partners always making me out to be the bad guy, putting me down for having strong feelings etc.

    My current boyfriend is a lot older than I am, so he has a very different mindset around these issues (along the lines of suck it up and move on). I told him within weeks of meeting him, and he decided that I was worth it. But every day is a struggle and it definitely affects our relationship when I am in a down cycle. I guess for me, when it comes to mental illness and a relationship, you have to decide if the other person is worth all of the work and if they feel the same way about you.

  • Helena

    I usually drop hints about my battle with depression during the first/second date or within a few days when I start chatting with someone on Tinder (ugh, I know…). I’ve been in therapy for 3 years now and have been slowly learning how to open up and be honest about my feelings. The guys I’ve met seem to find this rare and refreshing (?) and maybe intriguing but they don’t seem to be able to handle this for a long time… It’s quite disappointing at times but this is who I am, I can’t lie about it and act all cool *sigh*. There’s always hope, I guess!

  • Mallory

    I have always struggled with anxiety and little bits of depression, but during my first year of marriage, my depression got worse. It was such an oxymoron to me because everyone says that your first year of marriage is still “the honeymoon” stage, but during our first year, I was in graduate school, working full time, and dealing with really heavy family issues…nothing was wrong between my husband and me, but the external factors made me feel like I had fallen in a big black hole and I could not climb out. This was very new for my husband to deal with and deeply impacted our relationship. I had to be very open with what I was feeling and dealing with, and thankfully, he was incredibly supportive and helped me to get through that difficult time.

    • Haley Nahman

      I’m so glad to read that happy ending! If it’s any consolation I’ve hard that the first year is hard for a LOT of people. I think Leandra has said that too!!

  • Helena

    Also, can I mention how much I ADORE Man Repeller these days?? I woke up this morning and one of Leandra’s posts helped me just pick an outfit for this crazy fall weather and not stand in front of my closet for an hour and then I come home and find this article, I love you guys!

    • Haley Nahman

      Love you for this comment!!!

  • Nena

    My ex boyfriend (partly) discussed his mental health issues pretty early into out relationship. Probably on second or third date he mentioned he had been depressed and this had helped him grow and appreciate being alive and stable. But somehow, as the relationship moved forward, it seemed more and more obvious he was (most likely) still depressed and it was very difficult to cope with, specially because he refused to admit it and became violent, insecure and difficult to be around for everyone else but me. I really was in love with him and even when I remember thinking “What am I doing here, do I have to go through this, too?” when he had a breakdown after a fight that he had started, I was willing to stay with him and support him. A few months later, he got laid-off, decided it was time to go to his masters in NY and broke up with me to later regret it. I still think about him and wonder how he’s doing, he’s such a fragile person and even though he was mean after we broke up, I want him to be O.K.
    I know it must be hard to talk about your real mental health history, but if someone loves you enough, they’ll be there for you, I promise.

    • Haley Nahman

      <3

  • Marta

    It took my partner seven years to tell me has a family history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and that he believes he is bipolar. I hadn’t seen him cry at all during our entire relationship (ps we’d been living together for four years at this point too) until this one truly painful evening when he totally broke down. I thought he was trying to break up; nope, he was trying to tell me about his experiences with mental illness!
    It scared me and still does even though he has been fine since. If I try to talk to him about it he doesn’t want to engage.
    One of the hardest things to me has been that we have always always had a very open and communicative relationship, we don’t really argue, don’t bottle up our feelings; I have always felt that we could talk about anything, we’re best friends and trust one another totally. But it took 7 years for him to tell me about this. It’s obviously something that’s super personal for him. Seven years in and I’m feeling for the first time that I wish he would let me in.

    • Haley Nahman

      Ugh that sounds so hard and just speaks to the crazy stigma of mental illness. Good luck to you guys, it sounds like you have the right ingredients!

  • Antonia Ramirez

    I have bipolar disorder and have also been sober for 16 years. I told my last boyfriend right away and we dated for a few years before breaking up in May of this year. I’m learning to be myself and not be afraid to disclose both these illness. It’s a continuous journey. I do everything to take care of myself and continue to strive for growth. It’s not always easy, and sometimes can be very painful. I am in therapy, see a psychiatrist and go to my 12 step meetings. I know my next relationship will be even better. As long as I am honest and myself. That’s the only way to break mental illness stigma.

    • Haley Nahman

      Totally agree, sounds like you have so much good to bring to a relationship!

  • jem16

    Just writing

    • jem18

      woops, didn’t mean to prematurely post that.
      i meant to write: thanks for writing about mental health and bringing it to the forefront of people’s conversations. It helps tremendously to see it entering into popular conversation.
      xx

  • Anna

    I have a boyfriend suffering from severe depression and anxiety. When I first got close to him three years ago he straight up told me he was messed up and I didn’t want to get into it really. I’ve always supported my friends with mental problems and my dream is to become a psychologist so I told him to at least give it a try everyone was worthy of love after all. Nobody believed we could do it because we had to makes it work long distance for almost two years while we finished school. But here we are still deliriously happy and I’m very glad he came clean straight away. I knew what I was getting into and he’s been a lot better I couldn’t be prouder of him!!!

    • Haley Nahman

      He’s v lucky to have such a supportive partner!!

  • Mariana

    The problem is when your mental health prevents you of having a relationship in the first place. Your head is full of “What if? What if? WHAT IIIFFF?!” and you kill something before it even begins in order to trying to control something that is uncontrollable: a relationship, that is supposed to be a thing where you learn along the way.

    • I don’t have mental heath issues, but still manage to psych myself out with the ‘what if??’s on the reg.

    • Haley Nahman

      Oh man, so with you. That’s a whoooooole other story

    • Lil

      THISSS omg yes

  • Martina

    Both me and my boyfriend struggle with different mental health issues. We both knew what we were getting into when we became a couple. It’s not always easy, when both are having a bad day.

    But not sharing as never been an option, we wouldn’t have been together.

    And we all should remember”… if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best…”

    https://media.giphy.com/media/kElXL0Excgmas/giphy.gif

    • Haley Nahman

      Marilyn was an apt person to loop in here tbh

  • Hannah Joyner

    I’ve found that my anxiety peaks when I’m at home with nothing to do but sit and think. Just having someone to talk to made a huge difference, and they can be a cheer squad for you too and encourage you to exercise which helps even more. A big lesson I learned though, is that your partner can be a shoulder to cry on and be there to listen to you when you need, but they are not your therapist, and it’s unfair to hold them to that standard where you expect them to have solutions. Ideally you’re capable of all that without them.

  • Caro A

    Oh my gosh, I am working through this right now! Been dating this guy four months, it is serious. I live with anxiety and depression and take two different meds- one at breakfast and one before bed. And this guy and I have had very few overnights, typically I’ve skipped it at night (not dr. approved) and taken it right when I get back to my own place. And, I’ve hinted at my anxiety, we talk about emotions and feelings, etc. But I’ve never come outright and said, “I like with anxiety and depression and my symptoms ebb and flow.” We’re going away together this weekend. I’m surprised that it’s going to take me taking my meds right in front of him to say just that. I’m not sure why I haven’t been outright with it. We have been very honest and dear to each other. I don’t know, though. Maybe I’m scared I’ll feel unattractive if I tell him? Or that there’s a chance I could be a burden on him? As I’m typing this I’m thinking, “Oh dear girl, out with it, you’re too hard on yourself and telling him this is not going to turn him away.”

    • Ellie

      You are being too hard on yourself! It sounds like things are going great so don’t worry so much..and if he were turned away by it then he is naat the guy you wanna be with!! I hope you have a great weekend away – but put yourself first – take your meds and make sure you feel comfortable.

  • Julie

    I went out with a guy once who told me that he couldn’t be with someone with depression or a mental health issue again. His reason was that he’s been there and done that… and it was too difficult for him to handle. I mean, I get how trying to help someone with a mental health issue is challenging. But it is 100 times more challenging for the person ACTUALLY experiencing it. To blatantly rule out people with mental health concerns is just plain wrong. Fuck, dude. It ain’t about you.

    • Helena

      I’ve been in a similar situation and I know it can feel frustrating and disappointing. That guy said something along the lines of ‘for some weird reason, I’ve been attracting girls with issues similar to yours for a long time now and I can’t go through this again’. I respected his decision but tried to explain to him that maybe he attracts them for certain reasons (he seemed like a caring person and he was good listener) and that he may also be attracted to them for certain reasons (like, feeling strong and useful and helpful next to someone ‘weaker’ than you). What I mean is, people who just rule out others because of their mental health concerns are not necessarily assholes but probably have unsolved issues of their own.

  • Mercedes Ayala

    In the past, I was unmedicated, and so my mental illness was a focus. If anything, it was something for him to feel he had control over – his “purpose”. Which sometimes was lovely, sometimes made me feel teeny tiny that my purpose was to give him purpose.
    As of now, it truly depends on the person. If I click with someone, I tell them right away – it’s too large a part of who I am, it feels like lying. If I don’t click with someone, I might not tell them at all. It’s definitely something to discuss though, especially as I grow older and it becomes one aspect of my personality instead of THE aspect. I’m unsure how I’ll deal with it in the future.