By Allie Hunt and Jenna Alton
Dating can be intimidating for anyone. Being vulnerable and risking personal rejection is scary. Sprinkle in some depression and anxiety, and dating becomes downright daunting.
What should you know about dating when you have depression and anxiety — or when your partner is the one who struggles?
Read on for our tips, starting with some advice for sufferers.
1. Be honest with your partner and yourself.
It may be tempting to maintain a deceptively happy facade when you’re seeing someone new, but hiding your mental illness isn’t honest or healthy. You don’t have to disclose all the dirty details of your worst days on the first date, but as a relationship progresses, you should give your partner a general idea of your struggles. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends starting the discussion about your mental health as your relationship grows more committed. “By sharing your health history,” NAMI says, “you share insight into not just your challenges but also your strengths.”
2. Take care of yourself.
It’s important to seek out a supportive partner, but be careful not to let your happiness depend on them. Dr. Leon F. Seltzer writes for Psychology Today that there’s a distinction between support, which is normal and healthy in relationships, and dependency, which can lead to the degradation of a relationship. When you’re in a relationship, take all the time you need to address your mental health and do things that make you happy. If you haven’t already, consider seeking professional help. Doing so can help you learn healthy relationship habits and ensure you are taking care of your own mental health.
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3. Learn to accept help.
Once you’re in a relationship, it’s OK to take help from your partner. One of the beauties of committed relationships is that you don’t have to deal with all of your problems on your own. It’s also important to be patient when your partner, with the best of intentions, does something that isn’t very helpful, and to communicate about your needs.
4. Be patient.
Don’t be hard on yourself for having depression or anxiety that affects your dating life — everyone has baggage and struggles they need to work through with their partners, and mental illness impacts more people and relationships than you may think. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, in a given year in the U.S., generalized anxiety disorder affects 40 million adults, and major depressive disorder affects about 6.7% of the population.
If you’re dating someone who struggles with depression or anxiety, it’s important to understand that your partner’s mental illness will also affect you. You can be a supportive partner and have a close, meaningful relationship even if you don’t fully understand your partner’s struggles. Here’s how:
1. Educate yourself.
Learn everything you can about mental illness so you can better understand what your partner is experiencing and how you can help them. The internet is a great resource to catch a glimpse of what it’s like to suffer from anxiety or depression. Check out sources like NAMI, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. NAMI recommends researching both your partner’s diagnosis and helpful support tactics for their particular diagnosis.
2. Listen and express support.
You may not completely understand your partner’s struggles, but you can listen to them and make sure they know they’re not alone. Be fully present when they want to talk, and let them know it’s OK if they don’t want to talk. In addition to listening, one of the best ways you can support your partner is by offering both empathy and validation. According to NAMI, empathy looks like acknowledging the difficulty of someone’s struggle, even if we’ve overcome something similar, and validation is “simply the acknowledgement that a person has a feeling, even if we don’t agree that it’s an appropriate feeling to have or the response we would have in similar circumstances.”
3. Offer help.
If you’re struggling to know how to help your partner, it’s OK to ask them how you can help. You can also encourage them to seek treatment, as it’s often difficult for sufferers to seek treatment on their own. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only 43.2% of anxiety sufferers are receiving treatment. The association recommends helping your loved one by showing positive reinforcement, helping them set specific goals, and measuring their progress on the basis of individual improvement.
4. Take care of yourself.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself and your own mental health. If you let your own mental or physical health go unattended, your own wellbeing will suffer and you won’t be able to help your partner, either. NAMI recommends taking time to eat well, exercise, and maintain your passions, as well as joining a support group with others who also have partners with a mental illness.