Mental illness is a serious concern. According to recent statistics, about 1 out of 5 American adults suffer from mental illness in a given year. The numbers are similar in Canada, with 20% of Canadians developing a mental illness in their lifetime. More concerning still, all Canadians will be indirectly affected by mental illness at some point in their lives, whether through contact with a friend, family member, or coworker. With these odds, you’ll likely find yourself dating someone with a mental illness at one point or another. Maybe you’re dating someone with mental illness now, or maybe you’ve dated someone with mental illness in the past. Either way, you probably have questions that you’d like answered.
It isn’t easy navigating the waters of mental illness. You have to be vigilant at all times, careful not to trigger a relapse or a fit of illness. Mental illness will try your patience at times. There’s a good chance that it’ll negatively impact your own well-being. Before you know it, you’ll be seeking therapy for yourself. Movies and TV shows can glamourize relationships with the mentally ill, but in reality, there’s nothing glamorous about them. Many people in relationships with a sufferer of mental illness would choose differently if they had known what they were signing up for. So if you’re thinking about dating someone with mental illness, here are a few things that you should know.
15. Not all mental illnesses are created equal
Mental illness isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of deal. Variation exists between mental illnesses and between people with the same mental illness. Symptom presentations differ, and so does degree of impairment. Some mental illnesses are acute; others chronic. Some mental illnesses are heritable; others are more influenced by environmental factors. Some mental illnesses are highly treatable; others aren’t. You’ll have to get to know the person with mental illness first before you can get a clear picture of what life would be like as their romantic partner. He or she might end up being the perfect date, or he or she might turn out to be your worst nightmare.
14. The mental illness might be heritable
If you’re going to date someone with mental illness, then you should probably know what the chances are of that mental illness being passed on to your kids. Some mental illnesses have a high likelihood of being inherited by children. Bipolar Disorder, for example, is 90% heritable, which means that developing Bipolar Disorder has a lot to do with genetic factors. Other mental illnesses have a low chance of being passed on, like PTSD. Personality disorders are somewhere in the middle with 50% heritability. This means that having children with someone who has a personality disorder may or may not lead to your children developing a personality disorder of their own.
13. You might be put on suicide watch
Warning: dating someone with mental illness might turn your life into an episode of 13 Reasons Why. Several mental illnesses list suicidal ideation as a symptom. If your romantic partner is contemplating suicide, then Major Depressive Disorder is the most likely culprit. There’s a high chance that a person suffering from MDD will attempt to commit suicide. Then there’s Borderline Personality Disorder. People with BPD use threats of suicide to keep romantic partners from abandoning them. They’ll occasionally attempt suicide, carefully planning out their attempt so that someone catches them in the act just in time to save them. As you might have guessed, their suicide attempts are sometimes accidentally successful. People suffering from PTSD are also at increased risk of committing suicide.
12. Personality disorders are for life
If you’re going to date someone with a personality disorder, then you should know that personality disorders don’t just go away. They’re present from childhood to old age. For as long as you have a personality, you have a personality disorder. They’re notorious for being one of the most difficult classes of disorder to treat. People with personality disorders don’t realize that they have a disorder, meaning that they don’t seek treatment. Even if they do end up in therapy, it won’t be successful as long as the person doesn’t recognize that he or she has a problem. I speak from experience when I say that personality disorders aren’t worth the hassle. In the end, you’ll suffer more than the person with the actual disorder.
11. The person you’re dating might need to take medication
Many mental illnesses require medication to be treated successfully. Bipolar Disorder is a prime example. Look at Charlie Sheen. He says he’s “bi-winning,” but his erratic behaviour stems from Bipolar Disorder untreated. People with Bipolar Disorder feel better on medication such as lithium, persuading them that they no longer need to take it. As soon as they stop, however, they risk triggering another manic episode. You can’t let your romantic partner go off of their medication without a medical consultation first. You’ll need to become aware of your romantic partner’s medication regimen and encourage him or her to follow it. Other mental illnesses that may require medication include OCD, Schizophrenia, and ADHD.
10. You may never have a good night’s sleep again
Dating someone with mental illness will keep you up at night, and not in a good way. Sleep disturbance is a symptom common to many mental illnesses. If you’re sleeping next to someone with this symptom, then your sleep will be disturbed too. People with Bipolar Disorder who are having a manic episode often get up in the middle of the night to carry out a spontaneous plan. Some people with Major Depressive Disorder have trouble sleeping. People with PTSD experience traumatic nightmares that have them waking up screaming. We all need sleep. Think about that when deciding to swipe right on a mentally ill person’s Tinder profile.
9. Loved ones are silent victims
People don’t always realize how much mental illness impacts loved ones. Family members and friends of people with personality disorders have a particularly difficult time, given the chronic nature of the disorder. To illustrate, allow me to tell you a story about a family member with a personality disorder. Let’s call the person with the personality disorder Alice. Alice’s family tries to warn several of Alice’s boyfriends about Alice’s disordered behaviour. Alice’s boyfriends, not believing her family, tell Alice what’s being said about her. Alice threatens several family members and spreads vicious lies about them in their community. Still think it’s worth it to add a personality disorder to your family?
8. Don’t count on rational argument
You can’t argue with a mentally ill person like you would with a mentally healthy person. People suffering from mental illness aren’t always in a position to respond to rational argument. It’s futile to try. Take Schizophrenia, for example. A person with Schizophrenia won’t be able to listen to reason in the middle of a terrifying hallucination. The demon standing behind the sofa is there, no matter how many times you tell that person otherwise. The hallucination is real to that person, and until he or she takes medication to stop the hallucinations, you won’t be able to persuade him or her that he or she is imagining things.
7. Mental illness isn’t a phase
No, it won’t pass. Mental illness isn’t something that a person just gets over. It’s not just going to go away. It requires treatment of some kind, whether pharmacological or behavioural. If you’re going to date someone with mental illness, then you have to understand that it’s a lifelong struggle. Are you ready to make that commitment? If not, then extricate yourself from the situation before you get in too deep. You’ll only hurt the person with mental illness more if you pretend that you can cope with their illness when you can’t. There’s no shame in walking away. Just do it before you cause the person with mental illness further damage.
6. It’s not you, it’s them
Dating someone with mental illness might convince you that there’s something wrong with you. I’m here to tell you that that’s probably not the case. Mental illness is often synonymous with relationship dysfunction. You will experience problems with communication and trust in your relationship no matter what you do. While your behaviour may exacerbate the problems, chances are you didn’t create them in the first place. Some people with a substance use problem try to persuade their romantic partners that they drove them to abuse substances. Understand this: nobody causes another person to become an addict. Using substances is a choice; you can’t make it for them. The same goes for suicide, and many other behaviours characterizing mental illness.
5. BDSM is a paraphilia, not a sexual position
Novels like Fifty Shades of Grey have fed into the false assumption that sexual preferences such as BDSM are normative and desirable. In reality, Sexual Masochism and Sexual Sadism are paraphilic disorders. Don’t allow yourself to be convinced otherwise. You’re completely in the right to find these sexual acts disturbing. Would society fawn over a romantic hero who had a thing for Voyeurism? Oh wait, they have: Edward Cullen from the Twilight series. Society certainly doesn’t condone Pedophilia, which shares common traits with BDSM, in that it’s a paraphilia. Think about that for a minute.
4. The person you’re dating may not be able to hold down a job
Mental illness often leads to occupational impairment. It’s an unfortunate consequence of many disorders. People suffering from mental illness miss a lot of work days. People with anxiety disorders might feel too anxious to go to work. People with Major Depressive Disorder struggle to feel motivated enough to get out of bed. People with OCD might show up late to work because they had to perform lengthy rituals before leaving the house. People with certain personality disorders, like Histrionic Personality Disorder, cause drama in the workplace, causing them to be fired. If you date someone with mental illness, then you have to be prepared to be the primary breadwinner in the relationship.
3. Your social life might take a nose dive
When it comes to mental illness, social problems come with the territory. Impairment in social functioning is actually a required condition in order to be diagnosed with a mental illness. Some disorders, like Autism Spectrum Disorder, come with a social skills deficit. Social gatherings might be made awkward by including a person suffering from one of these disorders. Other disorders, like Borderline Personality Disorder, create problems in your social circle through lies, threats, and inappropriate sexual behaviour. Not everyone is understanding when it comes to mental illness, and some mentally ill behaviours are very difficult to understand. You need to have a thick skin to date someone with mental illness.
2. Therapy is expensive
If you’re going to date someone with mental illness, then you’ll need insurance. Therapy isn’t cheap, especially if you’re seeing a private psychologist. You’ll have to ask yourself as you consider dating someone with mental illness: can you afford it? Assume that your romantic partner needs regular therapy for life. Can you afford it? Assume that you might need couples therapy to deal with your romantic partner’s mental illness. Can you afford it? Therapy is often necessary in successfully treating mental illness, and no, there are no coupons. Unless you’re a trained psychologist, don’t try therapy at home.
1. Mental illness is stressful
Ah, stress; the silent killer. Its effects are insidious, leading to your demise before you can even detect them. Stress can kill us in a number of ways by wreaking havoc on a number of physiological systems. Dating someone with mental illness means inviting a constant stressor into your life. Are you prepared for that? Is your body prepared for that? Is your mind? Mental illness introduces you to social problems, relationship problems, and professional problems that you never even knew existed. It takes a gladiator to make it through exposure to mental illness unscathed. My advice to you: don your armour, or get out of the arena.
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