Should You Disclose Mental Health In Personal Relationships?
“I like long walks on the beach and watching baseball games on the big screen. I also live with social anxiety.”
Should that be on your online dating profile?
Maybe. Maybe not.
There’s no doubt that dating is tough, and most dating nowadays takes place online. When I speak to clients about dating, we often talk about what to include in online profiles or not. Should you include a bit about a health condition you live with? You may want to wait on that.
The reality is that online dating is about first impressions. If your first impression speaks of your emotional health, some people may not know what to do with that. In a world that prizes speed and efficiency, you may not get the right-swipes you’re hoping for. It’s not fair, but the reality is that people swipe left for far less these days.
Given that, you may only want to consider speaking about your diagnosis when you know someone a little better. If you’re concerned about being pigeon-holed based on your diagnosis, you may want to consider giving it a few meetings before you talk about your mental health.
On the other hand, some people often speak about their mental illness and want to highlight that as a part of their day-to-day lives. If you’re a mental health or disability activist, you may want to speak more candidly about your mental health early on. You might be the subject of an internet search before you meet anyway. If you talk about depression or mental health online, people are going to make assumptions and judgments based on what you share.
Sharing early on in dating is going to give you a jump on managing perceptions about your condition and how it impacts you. This is not without risk, but it may be more your style, and that’s completely OK. How or when you choose to disclose is up to you.
Family and Friends
While friends and family can often be our biggest sources of support, it can be nerve wracking to think about sharing our challenges with them. When we feel we are not meeting their expectations (and feel disappointed in ourselves) it can be hard to think about sharing our problems. But, in the end, it may be the best step to take.
Barring any extenuating circumstances, sharing your mental illness with friends and family members can be a complete game-changer. Often, we don’t understand how our conditions or concerns affect our relationships with others. The reality is, sometimes neither do the people in our lives.
I’ve talked with a lot of clients about their perceptions of their loved ones and their behavior. This discussion often comes with a self-critical lens. Sometimes our self-perception mirrors the interpersonal feedback we receive from those around us. More often than not, the people around us don’t understand what it’s like to live with a mental illness.
Being able to speak openly with friends and family about your challenges, effort, and progress might help put a more realistic context on their expectations and perceptions of you. Ultimately, this will allow them to make a fully-informed decision about how they can best support you and create space for themselves.
It’s difficult to discern when might be the right time to open up about your mental illness. It is also very scary. Talking with a therapist can help you sort out specific circumstances and find the best ways to make conversations about mental health productive for you. Being more open might be the key to getting the support you actually need.