Dating & Mental Illness: 5 Ways to Deal
As a mental health professional, the growing number of undiagnosed mental illnesses—specifically in the Black community —is a nagging concern. The reality is that mental health issues are the cause of numerous crises in our communities. The round table discussions centered around love, relationships and family dynamics often miss the mark, and fail to address how deep-rooted mental illness is in our community.
According to Mental Health America, in 2014, over 6.8 million people of color had a mental illness. If you are someone who is currently dealing with mental health-related issues, consider spending some time getting yourself together before pursuing a romantic partner. Here are some ways to do so.
1) Get yourself in order first.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “a good relationship provides valuable social support during difficult times whereas a bad relationship can worsen your symptoms, partially in cases of depression.”
Mental health treatment is a delicate process and it only truly works when the person is committed to getting well. Relationships can be a distraction when you are attempting to collect and put together the pieces of your life, so be conscious of how selfish you have to be to get healthy. If you can avoid having to share your time at the moment, do so. You never want the unhealthy parts of your mind to dictate your decisions. You are more likely to choose a lover of high caliber when you are emotionally healthy.
If you are the significant other to a person with suffers with mental illness, be mindful that:
2) You cannot fight this battle for them.
One of the biggest challenges couples face when mental illness infiltrates their relationship is the intense feeling of hopelessness. The individual who is mentally healthy will feel an overpowering desire to “fix” their partner or “make them healthy again.” Sadly, this is impossible.
Mental illness will force you to take a seat and be a passenger. You can attempt to help guide your mate in the right direction. You can even provide support when they take wrong turns or find themselves lost. You can also provide comfort during times when your lover feels discouraged or like they will never reach their destinations. However, no matter how bumpy the ride is, you cannot take the wheel from them. They have to want better. The improvement of your mate’s mental state has to be something he or she chooses to do on their own, not something they do for the sake of anyone else. If your partner is unwilling to tend to their mental health and it’s beginning to affect yours, your only option is to practice self-care and do what is best for you, whatever that may be.
That may mean:
3) Getting your own support.
Living and loving someone who suffers from mental illness can naturally take a toll on you. Not only do you risk absorbing a significant amount of the household responsibilities, but you may find yourself in the caretaker role for your mate. This may mean making sure they get to their counseling sessions, encouraging them to participate in outside activities and scheduling their appointments.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Support groups are a phenomenal tool for spouses who are dealing with a mentally ill partner. Find resources to help you understand what is happening in your home. Additionally, emotional support is going to be crucial. The more backing you have, the less confusion and pressure you will experience. Support groups for mental illness help alleviate some of the spousal suffering by serving as a educational tool and form of mental relief for individuals and families who are experiencing turbulence due to mental illness.
4) Setting boundaries…
Spouses of individuals battling mental illness often struggle with setting appropriate boundaries for their partners. Instead, they tend to do the opposite. They want to help their partners, so they create a comfortable existence for them in hopes of decreasing the signs and symptoms of the mental illness.
The thought is, “if they are less stressed with the small things, they can focus more on getting better.” This often makes the healthy partner mentally and emotionally fragile because they have unknowingly taken responsibility for their mate’s mental illness. This results in burnout, regret and animosity in the caretaker, all while stagnating their partner’s growth. When we do not set boundaries for our love ones, we run the risk of being walked over. For some individuals, the lack of consequences gives them permission to use their mental illness as an excuse to behave badly.
5) Understand that it is OK to walk away.
One of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made was to leave my mentally ill partner. Making the decision to walk away from a great person and a dynamic relationship was a taxing choice, but I could not longer carry the weight of my mate’s illness.
Like many others, I could tell stories for days of how amazing things were before the mental illness took control. When my significant other was taking medication and applying treatment techniques to stay mentally healthy and sound, the relationship was remarkable. However, the waters were turbulent and dangerous when this regimen was not adhered to. Eventually, the mental illness taught me to walk on eggshells. I quickly learned to make excuses for their behavior, and started to question my own mental health.
The only way to resume a sense of normalcy in my life was to severe ties. I dealt with the guilt of feeling like I abandoned someone whom I cared deeply for. I experienced constant nervousness, because I was no longer there to be a caregiver. I felt sadness when I thought about how special what we shared was. I even dealt with anger when I thought about how careless my mate seemed to be regarding treatment and my feelings. All and all, I eventually got centered and grounded myself in self-care. I needed to remember what it felt like to tend to myself. The preservation of my mental health was the priority and I had to make amends with myself for walking away.
I will tell you what many mental health professionals are hesitant to say: it’s OK to leave. Loving someone who has mental health issues is a full time job. It’s important to understand that each situation is uniquely different. Depending on the severity of the mental illness and that individual’s willingness to seek out adequate treatment, sometimes it is physically and emotionally safer for you to separate. Never feel ashamed for making your sanity the priority, especially if you have exhausted all other options in an attempt to salvage the relationships.
Jazz Keyes is a clinical psychologist, poetess and a nationally certified Life Purpose and Career Coach. She has devoted a great deal of her time and energy on mastering the art of communication in order to create healthy, dynamic, long-lasting relationships. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @jazzkeyes.