There are plenty of big conversations you'll probably have when you're dating someone: whether or not you want to get married, if you want to have children, and when you might want to move in together. But for people who struggle with mental health problems, one of those major conversations might be telling a partner about what they go through, and why they might have "off" days.
Kate Stewart, a psychotherapist and dating coach, says that if you're dating someone with whom you see long-term relationship potential, it's generally a good idea to start talking about mental health issues sooner rather than later. It might not necessarily be the best first date material, but she says that about a month or so into a relationship is a good time to at least begin the conversation. Because "if it isn’t said earlier or early-ish, people may feel it’s been kept from them specifically," Stewart says.
Of course, when and how you choose to talk about it with a new partner might depend on the specific mental health struggles you're facing. If, for example, you have depression but you've been managing it with treatment and therapy, it might not warrant as big of a conversation as the one you'd have if you've recently been hospitalized for a mental health issue or are in the process of seeking help.
"If you think about how some people have type 1 diabetes but it’s really well managed, that may come up as an important detail, but it’s not really something that impacts their lives or would impact a partner’s life necessarily," Stewart says. "In the same way, for people who have depression but it’s managed well, they might not need to talk about it within the first week or two, but it may be something to bring up, like, 'here’s something you should know about me.'"
Telling anyone about mental health issues, let alone a partner, is daunting. But Stewart says that you might pay attention to how your partner reacts when issues of mental health come up in your social circles, or even in movies and TV shows.
"If you’re dating someone who has a lot of negative feelings about mental health issues or is really uneducated about it, or says kind of hurtful things about other people having mental health issues, that would tell you that A) maybe you don't want to date that person, and B) you have to be careful about how you brought it up," Stewart says.
I think for a lot of these things, you just have to dive in, and it won’t always be clear when you can talk about it.
Kate Stewart, psychologist and dating coach
Their responses to mental health issues in movies and TV could be a good indicator of how they'd react in real life, but paying attention to when mental health comes up in conversations can also be a good segue for you to bring up your own struggles.
"If it ever comes up, you can be like, 'I want to let you know I have this mental health disorder and have been hospitalized,' or however much you want to say about it," Stewart says.
But if it doesn't come up in conversation, she says you might just have to rip the band-aid off and jump in, no matter how jarring or awkward it might feel to bring it up.
"One of the things that can be helpful is to sit down and say something like, 'this is my history with this, this is how many times I've had a manic episode,' or 'I've had to be hospitalized for depression,'" Stewart says.
She also suggests taking your significant other to your doctor during one of your appointments if you think they have questions that a doctor can answer better than you can.
If your partner doesn't seem immediately supportive, it could just be that they don't have a ton of experience with mental health issues, and they don't know what it means or what to expect. But if someone doesn't eventually make an effort to be supportive, that might require a bigger conversation. Either way, navigating mental health struggles is hard enough on your own, and we all deserve to be with people who can be understanding, even if they can't relate.