A while ago, Healthy Minds Canada posed a question on their social media: When’s the right time to tell someone you’re dating about your mental illness? If you’re looking for a definite answer, my apologies. I don’t have one. However, I’m willing to share my thoughts and a couple anecdotes that hopefully may help you answer that question for yourself.
My personal opinion is that it’s better to tell them sooner rather than later. That being said, everybody and every situation is different. Use your best judgement. Hopefully the rest of this blog post will help you come to a decision.
Here is a story from a year ago. Typically in relationships I never talked about my mental illness. I felt it was my problem to deal with and I didn’t want to involve anybody else. I felt even more strongly about that while I was well. I figured, it’s not a problem now, so why talk about the past? I was dating somebody, whom I will call John (not his real name), and for the first few months I was well. I wasn’t experiencing any depression or anxiety at all – life was great. However, a few months in depression slowly crept up on me. I acted like it wasn’t happening, and shrugged it off as being tired and not sleeping well. Both were half truths, so technically I wasn’t lying.
John and I went to a wedding together in the summer. The combination of alcohol, being in a crowded, loud room, and only knowing a few people triggered the world’s worst panic attack. Thankfully, the panic attack happened as my sister was picking the both of us up. I was pouring sweat, freaking out, yelling, and I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was actually dying or my head was going to explode, whichever would come first. My sister was able to calm me down enough to get home, but John was completely blindsided.
We talked about it the day after and I explained that I had had problems like that in the past. To which he responded, “I had no idea.” And how could he have? I sometimes wonder how that night would have played out had I felt differently about disclosing my mental illness to him. Perhaps I still would have had a panic attack, but perhaps I would have had more support calming down if a) he knew about the problem, and b) knew ways to help me settle. One reason to disclose to someone you’re dating that you’re living with a mental illness, or have a history of it, is safety.
Another story, a bit happier this time. A few months later I went on a date, a first date with Jim (also not his real name). We went for coffee and took a nice walk. When to talk about my depression was something on my mind and I wasn’t sure how soon I would want to disclose that. I also knew I wanted to avoid a future “panic at the wedding” scenario. I got lucky, though. Jim brought it up within a couple hours and disclosed that he himself had issues with anxiety. I then disclosed that I experience depression and we talked about mutual troubles. I still struggle with talking about my depression, however I have benefited from doing so. Jim knows when I’m feeling low, and reminds me to take care of myself.
Am I saying that you should talk about your mental illness on the first date? If it feels right for you – go for it. I do implore you to consider talking about it sooner rather than later. It’s my opinion that a real partner wants you to be healthy and happy. A partner that understands your mental illness can help you help yourself. The picture below says it well.
About Cassie S
25 year old psychiatric nursing student. I live with depression off and on and have since I was 12. Learning to ride the waves as they come.
I’m an introvert who enjoys reading, art, and spending time with friends and family. I also really enjoy being active: running, biking, hot yoga, dodge ball and slo-pitch are a few favourites.