Mental illness is not something a person should feel they have to hide, just like any other medical condition. It is a part of you that requires care and time, and would be very difficult to keep from a significant other. Telling a new partner about your mental illness can be scary, but it is a necessary step to have a healthy relationship. Not only do they deserve to know, but it may also be helpful to gain their support and understanding.
Many people are unsure when is the right time to bring up their condition, or even how exactly to have that conversation, so here are a few tips on when and how to disclose.
When To Disclose?
There isn’t any one best method of timing when it comes to this kind of serious conversation. However, there are certain moments that may be easier on you than others.
When You Feel Comfortable With Them.
It’s okay to wait a few weeks or even a couple of months to get to know a person before you disclose. You may need time to decide if they are someone you feel serious about. Or to determine if they are the kind of person who would show the compassion and support you are looking for when having this conversation.
You can wait until you feel that you have a strong connection with them, and you feel comfortable talking to them about serious topics. Keep in mind, if it’s the right person, you telling them should only make them appreciate your strength more.
When You Feel Okay.
It’s typically best to have the conversation when you’re feeling okay and not experiencing severe symptoms. If you have a condition that occurs in episodes, you should tell them during a calm period before an episode ensues. It will be easier to have the conversation when you feel okay and your head is clear. Additionally, if they are unaware of your condition and then you experience an episode or severe symptoms, they may not know how to help you or may be caught off guard by your symptoms.
When You Need Support.
If it happens that you don’t have the chance to tell them before you experience severe symptoms while you are with them, that’s okay too. You should tell them anyway if something happens while you’re together. Don’t try to hide how you’re feeling or what you’re going through. Actually seeing your symptoms may help them to comprehend and believe the gravity of your condition.
When They Disclose Their Issues.
If they open up to you about major problems in their life this shows that they feel comfortable with you. It should signal to you that they will most likely be accepting of your problems too.
When They Ask You.
They may notice your symptoms or a change in behavior and ask you about it. Mental illness can be a hard thing to hide. If they ask, it’s a good time to tell them the truth, even if you weren’t planning to in that moment.
How To Have The Conversation.
This conversation will most likely be very nerve-wracking. But you are strong, and if you can handle your mental illness, you can handle telling someone about it too. It may be helpful to have a basic idea of what you’re going to say before you say it. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
You are a part of their life now and thus, your illness is a part of their life as well. They need to know about it. Don’t downplay it or lie to them in any way. They will most likely find out later if you do. Open yourself up and tell them what you need and want to tell them.
Say What You Are Comfortable With Sharing.
You don’t have to tell them everything right away in order to have an honest conversation. While some people are ready to tell their partners the ins and the outs of their illness, this is not a requirement. So, feel free to tell them only what you are comfortable with whether it’s just the name of your illness or some of your symptoms. You can have the full discussion in your own time.
Try Not To Panic (If Possible).
Telling someone that you have a mental illness is scary and definitely can cause panic. However, you should try to relax, if you can. Try to keep in mind, if they are the right person for you, your mental illness won’t scare them away.
Do It Only If You Are Ready.
Some may feel pressured by friends, peers, family or even society to disclose their issues to their new partner, but you shouldn’t base any decisions off anyone but yourself. You don’t have to say anything if you are not comfortable with it yet. You have your reasons, and you should listen to your instincts.
Telling someone new that you have a mental illness—especially when you really like them—is hard. However, if you find the right time and if it’s the right person, it could be a positive and loving experience for both of you.
Written by Dr. Fajinmi, RN, PhD.