Brooklyn, NY — Most relationships involve some awareness of your partner’s health. Especially now, when the question “Have you been tested?” takes into consideration more than sexually transmitted infections. But discussions around health should not be limited to the physical.
A recent study found that 38.9 percent of young adults aged 18-25 received mental health services in 2019. In 2020, Express Scripts’ “America’s State of Mind Report” announced that new antidepressant, antianxiety, and anti-insomnia prescriptions rose 25.4 percent at the beginning of the pandemic. If you’re a part of the population taking medication for your mental illness, here are a few tips to ensure a healthy, smooth, and constructive conversation with your partner about your treatment.
Set a Time and Place to Share
If you’re experiencing anxiety about discussing your mental health history with your partner, scheduling the talk may set the tone for a successful conversation. Jennifer Wolfe, a Brooklyn-based psychotherapist suggests letting your partner know in advance that you want to chat about your health history. Then, pick a time where you and your partner are free of distractions.
While setting an appointment to chat may be straightforward, determining what “stage” in the relationship to do so can be trickier. “While it isn't necessarily first-date material, the longer it goes unsaid, the more it becomes a secret,” says Wolfe. If your dates overlap with your medication schedule, or you’re experiencing symptoms or side effects related to your treatment, it’s time to initiate the discussion.
Ultimately, you want to share after enough time has passed that your partner has a framework through which to understand you and your life, but soon enough that you have not overinvested if the information is not well-received. For many, this could mean sharing before your relationship hits the six-month mark.
Educate Your Partner
In addition to informing your partner about the role your diagnosis plays in your life, you can also inform them of its science and history.
When you tell your partner about your psychiatric treatment, clarify how your journey began and how it’s progressed. Discuss the warning signs, symptoms, and coping mechanisms that comprise your experience. Then offer resources that may help your partner develop a greater context for your experience. If you need help locating educational resources, seek out a specialist or service specializing in “psychoeducation.” The field is dedicated to informing individuals both directly and indirectly affected by a wide array of illnesses. To make things more personal, you can also watch a movie together that’s similar to your own experience and share your reactions afterward.
Approach the Conversation With Curiosity
When 24-year-old Elia Mattke began dating her former boyfriend, she decided to share her experience as someone with bipolar disorder. She was conscious of the fact that a genetic disease presents valuable information for their distant future as potential co-parents. Initially, his response was warm, she shared. But over time, she felt he was just “passively okay” with her medical history. He failed to ask direct questions about her internal experience and admitted to feeling uncomfortable with her memories of her life before finding the right medication.
Gauging your partner’s understanding of the spectrum of mental health is a great way to set the stage for open dialogue in the future and actively debunk stigmas. Mattke has experienced this firsthand in her current relationship, where her now-boyfriend has asked about associated warning signs and encourages her to talk about her experience and emotions freely.
Even if your partner shares a diagnosis or medication, it’s important to remember your experiences can vary. “No two experiences are exactly the same, so even if both parties in a relationship have experienced anxiety, for example, the way it impacts each of them may vary greatly,” says Wolfe.
Own Your Story
Openness is the foundation for any good relationship. Not only does this foster mutual transparency, but talking about your struggles can counteract shame. In other words: the inner monologue that says mental illness diminishes your value can be silenced by a mutually compassionate conversation.
But sharing your vulnerabilities requires enough self-love to set the bar for how others will receive you. So don’t apologize for who you are or where you’ve been. Work on trusting that your struggles will contribute to a bright future romantically and independently.
Psychiatric medication is just one facet of someone’s story. But, if it is a part of your’s, sharing it could be a crucial step in building authentic, conscious relationships and humanizing mental illness.