Do you feel that it’s necessary to disclose your mental illness to your partner and, if so, how? Do you use dating apps and, if so, how do they affect your mental health? What kinds of stigma have you experienced because of your mental illness?
On October 25th I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at Healthy McGill’s “Mental Illness and Dating Panel”. I spoke alongside four other amazing panelists, Bee Khaleeli of SSMU Mental Health Commission, Jade-Isis Lefebvre of McGill Counselling Services, Adi Sneg of Healthy McGill Peer Educator, and Andy Michelle of EUS Mental Health.
Much in the spirit of our own organization, tea was served to everyone before we began, to quell the pre-panel jitters. Many members of the McGill community were in attendance, suggesting to me that conversations like this one are valuable and necessary.
We had diverse perspectives and opinions, but one thing we panelists generally agreed on was that there is no right time or way to disclose your illness to a partner. Some of us derived a sense of power and control by choosing to bring up our mental health right away, while others (myself included) felt that allowing the subject to come up organically with a partner after a relationship had already been established felt right.
Communication, communication, communication
Open communication came up frequently throughout the course of our discussion and seemed to play a key role in the ways we cope with our highs and lows within the context of dating. Many of us agreed that finding ways to clearly communicate our boundaries and needs to a partner helped them to better understand us and created a stronger bond of trust.
We all lean on our partners from time to time, but what responsibilities do they bear when it comes to our mental health?
If I’m being honest, I found it incredibly difficult at first to open up about my own experiences. I am by no means an expert on relationships or mental health – and I’m certainly far from having all the answers in my own love life.
I am someone who deals with generalized anxiety and depression on the daily, and I take medication to help manage the symptoms. Opening up about this was a challenging but rewarding choice for me. Being in the presence of such forthcoming fellow panelists made all the difference and encouraged me to dive into the sometimes-difficult topics with honesty.
Vulnerability turned into strength
Talking about mental illness from a place of personal experience requires great vulnerability, and I was grateful for the thoughtful and intentional details that went into the preparation for this event. The environment that Healthy McGill fostered for both the panelists and community members was one of warmth and safety.
For me, the highlight of the evening was the Q&A portion, where members of the audience were invited to ask questions and share their own experiences. I was humbled by the willingness of complete strangers to engage in dialogue and disclose the challenges that they themselves face with dating and mental health.
One question that stuck with me from an audience member was what the responsibility of the other person in a relationship must take over the mental health of their partner. When is enough enough, and how do you cope when the relationship is failing but your partner still needs help?
Of course, none of us could answer this question with any certainty. The importance of having a strong support network outside of the relationship was echoed by all of us. No one should have to feel the burden of being their loved one’s only outlet.
Even after the session, I was compelled to continue to discuss my experiences in greater detail with my own partner, who was also in attendance. Sitting down with my partner in a casual setting, we felt more at ease to share openly about aspects of our mental health and love lives that we had never touched on before.
That is the value and importance of frank conversations around mental health: the more we unabashedly dive into stigmatized topics, the more we can encourage others to follow suit, turning the taboo into the quotidian.
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