How Mental Illness Stigma Affects Romantic Relationships
Mental illness stigma is probably most troubling within romantic relationships, because we believe that our partners should understand and support us more than anyone else in our lives. Many of us have likely experienced some form of mental illness stigma, be it from people that we know or from strangers who make assumptions about us based on our illness. There is more than one way that mental illness stigma affects romantic relationships.
Mental Illness Stigma Can End Relationships Before They Begin
The world of potential romantic partners is limited for people with mental illness. Not everyone has the patience to deal with someone through an episode, and some people just don't want to deal. Still others can't put aside their preconceived notions long enough to consider dating someone with mental illness. As a writer on other blogs for the general population, I've experienced mental illness stigma dealing with even the possibility of dating, as well as stigma towards people with mental illness dating those without a disorder. I've written stories about waiting to disclose my mental illness, only to be met with comments like, "you're a liar for not talking about your mental illness on the first date," or "how can you hide your mental illness from people you date?" I found myself defensively arguing with my readers, telling the computer screen that it wasn't being fair and that it couldn't judge me or my behavior.
I believe that at the root of comments like these is the idea that people with depression or bipolar disorder somehow don't deserve romantic relationships. In this particular situation, I asked my commenters if they'd require someone with another disease to disclose it on the first date; they flat out replied "no," highlighting for me the clear prejudice people express with respect to dating and mental illness. The other factor underlying this mental illness stigma is the idea that people with mental illness always have to lead a conversation with a disclosure of their illness -- presumably to protect the "healthy" party involved -- as though people with mental illness require a social warning label. Encountering this kind of prejudice, even in a hypothetical dating situation, can make someone afraid to consider carrying on a romantic relationship.
Existing Relationships Can Fall Victim to Mental Illness Stigma
Even when people with mental illness are successful at establishing romantic relationships, stigma can become an issue in the union. My last boyfriend and I experienced this when I had a depressive episode during our relationship. Once I understood what was happening to me, I explained it to him and told him what to expect. My boyfriend was definitely supportive of me and of my disease, and aware of how difficult it was for me to battle the depression. He asked me about my medication and whether my therapy was helping. He understood when I was having a bad day and didn't want to talk to him. And he reminded me to do activities that boosted my mood.
As I got better, however, he treated me differently than he had before my episode. He'd attribute any change in my mood to my bipolar disorder, even when I was just having average, human emotions. Then he became less understanding of my bad days and times when I couldn't be there for him in the way he wanted. In the end, we broke up because he didn't feel like he could take care of me even though that's not what I'd asked for. It turned out that my boyfriend assumed that my life would always be like it was during my episode, and not like the fairly average existence I'd had up until then.
Exposure and Communication Can Help Lessen Mental Illness Stigma in Relationships
Though it is difficult to experience mental illness stigma in a romantic relationship, one way to help lessen it is to expose potential partners to the truth about mental illness. That could mean choosing your dates from a pool of people who share your disease, or who have dealt with family issues surrounding mental illness. Alternatively, you can share information about your experiences with larger groups of trusted friends and acquaintances, so that people who know you already can associate your illness with the positive aspects of your personality rather than negative stereotypes. The more your circle witnesses the realities of living with a mental illness, the less likely they will be to apply hurtful stereotypes.
One way that I expose my friends to my mental illness is through social media, mostly on Facebook. There, both new and old friends have the opportunity to interact with all aspects of my personality, whether I'm feeling intellectual, sarcastic or depressed. In that way, I can paint a holistic picture of myself that treats my mental illness as one aspect of a very varied life. The men that I've dated in the last year have all met me through other friends on Facebook, and they all knew about my disease before pursuing me. Dating in this way makes it easier for me to interact within a romantic situation without worrying how I'm going to mention my bipolar disorder. It also screens out people who have biases against those with mental illness.
Mental illness stigma is difficult to eradicate on a large scale, or on an institutional basis. However, it is easier to employ personal tactics to help minimize stigma in your close relationships.
Lloyd, T. (2015, July 23). How Mental Illness Stigma Affects Romantic Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, May 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2015/07/how-mental-illness-stigma-affects-romantic-relationships
Author: Tracey Lloyd
BUT...I'm blessed to be loved!
Tried so hard to defend...but he broke down all my walls like that...!
There*s always that devil voice inside my head that wispers"no way,this can*t be true...he*s just playing with you...!
...and it*s keeping me restless inside...
...........................but every dammned day he shows me how much he loves me...believe
,,,and every day I believe more...
Believe in ME...myself...worth to be loved the way I !!! am!
Giving all my strenght and hope to all out there who*ll read this! <3
YOU ARE LOVEABLE! ...just the way YOU ARE!
we tend to work and talk things over when it gets bad