Relationships can be difficult without the added challenges that mental illness brings to the table. Dealing with mental illness can be emotionally draining and exhausting but sometimes knowing that someone is there to support and help you every step of the way is the reassurance to carry on.
Not only have I myself suffered from both depression and anxiety I am currently dating someone who also suffers from depression and anxiety. With my relevant knowledge here are some tips below on how to love someone who suffers from a mental disorder.
Just because they have a mental illness doesn’t make them “unstable” or “crazy”. I have had a lot of experiences with people where I would open up and confide about my mental health and the one response I always got was:
“But you don’t look depressed”
We don’t always look like we are suffering. But just because I can go a whole day smiling or laughing doesn’t mean the depression has suddenly disappeared. For all you know I could have spent the whole day before not getting out of bed. The unpredictably of mental illness means some days are better than others but you don’t know when. Of course, there will be days it’s obvious I’m depressed but for the most part, I am high-functioning. I have had CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) in the past and have been told ways to manage my symptoms.
Depression is a bit like when a duck is swimming. Above the water, it looks calm but if you’ve ever seen a duck swim, their feet are working overtime under the water.
And if someone you’re dating does confide in you and tells you they’re suffering, be kind. For some people it can take a lot to tell others what is going on in their head. Especially if you are dating, they might get worried that you’ll leave them. So, listen, help where you can and just be the strength they need to pull through.
When giving advice try not to come across as patronising. The number of times I’ve had people tell me:
“oh, it’s easy, go for a run. Eat an apple”
The advice itself isn’t what bothers me. When I’ve been in the right frame of mind, exercising and eating right has helped my mood. It is when people suggest it is “easy” that is what annoys me. It is hard to explain to people who don’t suffer because obviously, you wouldn’t force someone with a broken leg to go on a run. So why are you forcing me? There are days I struggle to brush my teeth and get in the shower; a run is the last thing on my mind. Sometimes it isn’t that “easy”.
Like with any relationship an honest and open line of communication is best. We all need reassurance but sometimes those who suffer from mental illness need it more. It isn’t just what mental health issues you have; it is also how they affect you daily. For example, as well as suffering from anxiety I sometimes get paranoid, especially since being cheated on by a previous partner. Sometimes my paranoia is so bad I think my boyfriend is only dating me as a prank, which I know seems stupid but that is just how my brain functions. But I’ve learnt to be honest with my partner and when I’m having a particularly bad day, he will call me, see me, give me a hug etc. I’m not expecting him to suddenly be able to fix all my problems but sometimes you just must reach out and let people know you need help.
When you are dating someone with mental illness you can’t assume, they will be happy 24/7 just because you make them happy. They had the mental illness before they met you and will continue to have it whilst you’re dating. It isn’t something they can just “get over”. It’s a chemical imbalance in their brain. It is difficult to watch a loved one go through any kind of pain whether that be physical or emotional. Whilst you can be there to listen and to support when you can, you can’t cure them of their mental illness.
Don’t take their symptoms personally. Many mental illnesses come with mood swings and they can go from sad to angry to depressed in a matter of minutes. Over time you will be able to learn their symptoms. You’ll be able to work out what triggers them into certain moods and work out what makes them feel better. Eventually, you’ll be able to stop the triggers altogether. Don’t see their mood swings as a negative, see it as a learning curve for you for how to help in the future. It’s manageable through therapy, medication, group support, however, treatment isn’t “one size fits all”. You may know someone who doesn’t need medication but that doesn’t mean your partner is the same.
Some days are easier than others. But also, some days are absolute hell. Make sure you are still there when they’ve completely given up on themselves. Make sure they take their medication, make sure they go to their therapy. Remind them that the feelings are temporary and you’re there for them.
Ask them questions. For those who have never suffered mental illness, it can be confusing. Educate yourself. Obviously only if your partner is okay with it, don’t push them for answers on topics they aren’t comfortable discussing.
Just remember if you are dating someone who suffers from mental illness, they appreciate your help. Even if they don’t express it every day. Your support and patience are vital to their treatment and self-acceptance.
Gracie Victoria x