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When to Reveal Your Mental Health Condition in a New Relationship

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With the recent openness from celebrities like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga about their struggles with depression, more and more people are understanding that even someone as tough as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson can succumb to debilitating mental health conditions.

Common Concerns About If and When to Disclose Mental Illness in a New Relationship

Although the stigma around mental health disorders is gradually dissipating, anyone with a mental health disorder can still feel ashamed about their condition and wonder if and when to share their illness in a dating context. In this context, it’s not uncommon to wonder:

• How important is it that you tell a new love interest about a diagnosis like persistent depressive disorder (PDD)?
• Should you be talking about your bipolar disorder after having a few dates or wait until things get serious?
• Is it better to wait until you have made a serious commitment to each other to share about your history of severe panic attacks?
• If you struggle with anorexia nervosa, should you talk about it when you have your first date at a restaurant?

Why Honesty About Mental Health Issues Is Important in Romantic Relationships

There may never be a perfect time to open up about a mental health condition with someone you’re dating, but it is important to make the time to have that conversation. Mental health issues and recovery from mental health issues can greatly affect relationships. Having an honest conversation about these things can help set a strong foundation for your relationship.

3 Key Considerations About When to Have a Conversation About Mental Health

Here are a few things to consider about the time to broach a potentially sensitive discussion about mental health in a new relationship:

1. Substance use disorders.

People who are in recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs), such as alcoholism or addiction to painkillers, may want to share their recovery experience right out of the gates. This way, they can avoid those awkward moments when a date wants to meet up at a bar, share a six-pack or toast you with champagne.

Rather than wait until the first date to divulge this information, consider sharing it on your dating profile. There, you can express how your recovery is important to you and perhaps that you are looking for someone who is sober and will support your recovery. If the person you are dating isn’t going to be supportive or is judgmental, then you don’t want them in your life anyway. If you feel embarrassed about your condition or are having trouble staying sober, it’s probably best to hold off on dating until you are more stable and can share your progress in recovery with genuine pride.

2. Psychoactive medications.

Many people in this day and age take psychotropic medications for various mental health conditions. Some of these medications, such as SSRI antidepressants, can impair sexual functioning or lower sex drive. It’s important that you research these medications and ask your doctor if the psychoactive medications you are taking impact this area of your life. If you have become sexually active, it may be worth sharing the medications you are on and their impact on your sex drive. If you keep these medications a secret, you may run the risk of your partner misinterpreting a disinterest in sex and/or difficulty performing as their fault or a lack of attraction on your part.

3. Behavioral changes.

If a mental health disorder is affecting your behaviors in particular ways, be sure to discuss these things when you are becoming more serious with someone. For example, a person with bipolar disorder can exhibit severe changes in mood, even when they’re taking appropriate medications. Letting a partner know that high-stress levels can trigger your mood swings will help them better understand these periods of moodiness without taking them personally. If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), be open about what type of rituals you are trying to manage, so that when you run into the bathroom to wash your hands, the other person doesn’t think they said something offensive to make you run.

How to Know Whether You Can Trust a New Love Interest With Personal Mental Health Information

With the exception of SUDs, which are worth mentioning even before a first date, most other mental health conditions — much like other chronic illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure — don’t need to be aired right away on a first date. Many people with a mental illness want to feel like they can trust someone enough before they share this sensitive information. This is only understandable. On that note, here are some things you can do to help you evaluate how safe and supportive your relationship is and whether “now” is the right time to divulge a mental health condition:

  • Notice how your love interest describes their relationships with family, friends, colleagues and past partners. Pay particular attention to how they dealt with challenges in these relationships and whether they tried to work out these issues by playing a constructive and supportive role. If they seem hypercritical and judgmental when describing these relationships, this could be a red flag. Similarly, if a person is always complaining or gossiping about someone at work, they may be judgmental. Don’t be afraid to bring up these past and present relationships and inquire about them.
  • Discuss mental health issues as they arise in the news. This is a great way to gauge someone’s views about mental health before getting vulnerable yourself. Whether it’s a celebrity’s comments about depression or a hot-button issue like the latest mass shooting, you can learn a lot about someone from how they react to these issues.
  • Share something that’s mildly personal and gauge your partner’s response. You don’t have to be vulnerable all at once. Consider taking baby steps and then evaluate the response. This can be a good way to gauge the level of trust and support in your relationship and whether now is a good time to open up about your mental health.
  • Check-in with yourself and your emotions. Notice your own responses and whether you feel safe and can be yourself when you’re around this person. You may have a “sixth sense” or intuition — pay attention to what it might be telling you.

Put Your Mental Health First in Any New Relationship

There is nothing to be embarrassed about if you live with a mental health disorder. If you want to be in a relationship where there is a strong level of emotional intimacy, let this person in on your disorder so you can see how well they can help support your recovery. If they are not sensitive to your condition or look down on you for it, that’s a signal to run in the opposite direction because they will be a hindrance to your mental health.

So, just when is it a good time to talk about your mental health disorder? Don’t waste your time on unsupportive people in your life: Tell your date as soon as you can, and when you feel safe doing so. If they are a positive person for you, they will want to understand more about your condition so they can be sensitive to your needs. Put your recovery needs first and surround yourself with people who want to help with your journey toward better mental health and well-being.

Dr. Sachi Ananda is a sex and relationships therapist. She is also the director of “Shatterproof,” a specialized addiction and mental health treatment program at FHE Health for veterans and first responders. Learn about FHE Health here.

Photo by René Ranisch on Unsplash

Originally published: January 10, 2020
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