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Dating someone new? How to talk about mental health

Starting a relationship is exciting, but it’s hard to know how - and when - to tell your new boyfriend or girlfriend about your mental health issues.

Are you in a new relationship? Had a few dates with someone? Or maybe using Tinder or other apps to meet new people?

Dating and new relationships are exciting and fun, but for some people they can also be scary. Letting a new person in sometimes means letting your guard down and inviting the person you care about to see a more vulnerable side of yourself.

Nearly half of us experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives, and one in five experience a mental health problem each year. If you live with a mental health condition you might wonder how to tell your new girlfriend or boyfriend about it.

Should you tell someone about your mental health condition?

Whatever the nature of your mental health problem, telling people about it is a personal decision. Be it your boss, your friends, even your family, it’s 100% up to you to let them know – or not.

It doesn’t have to be a big secret, though, and you can talk about it when you feel comfortable. In fact telling certain people, including people you’re dating, may help them better understand you. Indeed, a survey in the UK found that 60% of those who regularly talk to their partners about their condition said “it made the relationship easier to manage”. And most partners were very supportive, with 74% saying they weren’t phased when finding out.

It’s not uncommon to enter into a new relationship with certain things we wished we didn’t feel we had to explain. So, while you might be stressing about revealing your mental health issues, remember that your new boyfriend or girlfriend could be worrying about telling you something, too.

MORE: Should you tell your boss you have a mental health condition? Here are some things to consider

When to tell someone about your mental health condition

There’s no exact right point in a relationship to talk about your mental health issues. Usually it’s not first date conversation – unless you want to it to be; but it’s hard to say beyond that.

If it looks like it’s going to be a long-term relationship, it’s likely you’ll want to tell them at some point and it’s better to tell them when you are well, rather than waiting until you’re unwell.

Mental health expert Colman O’Driscoll said timing depends more on how you feel than on hitting milestones.

Remember that people disclose for different reasons, when considering your own situation, it’s best to disclose when you feel that a) your relationship is meaningful b) you feel emotionally ready to talk about it and c) when you feel that the timing is right for you and your partner.

How to tell someone about your mental health condition

How to broach the subject is different for every couple, but there are a few things to consider which may be helpful.

  • Do it in person;
  • Practice what you want to say beforehand;
  • Find a time and place where you won’t be rushed or interrupted;
  • Don’t do it if either of you are tired, stressed or have been drinking.

MORE: Family members all have varying states of mental health. Find out why and how to talk about it here

What to say

Nobody can give you a script, but it can be helpful to jot down some notes. You don’t have to read them during the actual talk, but you can if you get stuck.

A good way to start is by preparing your partner for an important conversation. You might want to say something like; “I want to talk to you about something important but I’m not sure how to talk about it. It means a lot if you could just listen and try to understand”.

After you’ve prepared your partner, it’s time to move on to the specific problem. It’s good to give concrete examples of how your mental health problem affects you because everybody is different. It doesn’t have to be a traumatic conversation, but it can help if you explain some of your triggers, what happens when you feel bad, and how you cope with it all. And remember, you can share as much or as little as you like.

After you’ve had that conversation try to “encourage your partner to talk about anything that worries or upsets them, and answer their questions openly and honestly” says Colman. Share ways they might be able to support you through a rough time, and let them know you don’t expect them to magically fix you – just being there helps.

How will they react?

Everyone’s reaction will be different. For many people, having a partner with a mental health condition is not a big deal. Others might be uncertain or curious, so it’s a good idea to have some good books or websites on hand to answer their questions, and to give them some time to absorb the information.

It goes without saying, the right person will accept you for who you are. And remember, there are many people who have or have had a mental health condition in long, happy supportive relationships.

At Medibank, it’s not just your physical health we care about. Your mental health matters too. If you’re looking for more information on mental health and the health issues that matter most to young people, click here.

*If you’re feeling distressed, support is available for anyone by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

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