Living with a mental illness is never easy. It can be hard at times to even understand your own mind, let alone have to explain it to someone else. But once you begin dating someone seriously, it’s beneficial to both of you if they begin to learn more about you and how your mind operates.
But it can be difficult to know where to start and when to talk about it. Bring it up too soon and you could overwhelm someone; wait too long and it could begin to feel like a massive secret you’re hiding from them.
INSIDER asked relationship experts when they’d recommend discussing and disclosing details about your mental illness in a new relationship, and they seemed to agree that there is no set time. That said, there are some signs you should start the conversation.
Figure out if you feel safe with them.
Your mental illness status may be something that you’re cool sharing with anyone you meet, but it’s likely something that is a little more sensitive to you. If you’re sharing this info with someone, you want to be sure they’re the type of person that can keep this information private if you want them to.
“Trust is incredibly important in safe relationships,” Alex Hedger, clinical director of Dynamic You Therapy Clinics, told INSIDER. “It might be an idea to ‘test the water’ with providing your partner with pieces of less sensitive information about yourself to see how they handle this first. Once you are satisfied that there is a good level of trust then you may want to disclose information about a mental health history.”
If you don’t feel safe with them after a little while together, that’s not only a good sign that you shouldn’t be telling them about your mental health, but you probably shouldn’t be with them anyway.
“You’re probably also more nervous about disclosing it than they will be in hearing it,” mental health professional Mark Henick told INSIDER. “If you’re not having these kinds of close and meaningful conversations anyway, then that will guide you. It is less the timing in the relationship, and more the quality of the relationship that can help you know when to disclose. When you know, you know.”
See how they respond to media or conversations about mental illness.
Obviously, you hope to date someone of good moral character and someone who will respect people with mental illnesses. Experts told INSIDER that because so much media recently has been focused on mental illness, engaging your partner in a conversation about it or taking in media that covers it is a good way to gauge their comfort level.
“Often what people will do to check for safety in disclosing is to start with a conversation about the issue more generally,” Henick told INSIDER. “Read an article, watch a movie, see a play, attend an art show or benefit concert that touches on or expressly deals with mental health and mental illness. Then, talk about it. Does your partner laugh and make fun of the issue, or do they express empathy and understanding?”
Feel out if you want to move forward.
The biggest clue that you should disclose your mental health status to your partner is if you see yourself moving forward with them romantically. If this is someone that you see yourself committing to, you owe it to both of you to say something.
“If you feel that you are with a person that you want to grow and develop with, then as soon as you know that you want to be as open as possible,” Jennifer Walton, a licensed professional counselor, told INSIDER. “Depending on the mental health issue you may feel shy or stigmatized, however it is important to normalize it for yourself and your partner because you are not alone.”
No matter when you tell your partner about your life with a mental illness, be sure to do so with patience, understanding, and care, and be sure they give you the same. Chances are, they’ll be so happy that you feel like you can trust them enough to be honest.