Disclosing your Mental Health Status to your Partner
One of the hardest parts about struggling with a mental illness is learning when (and if) you should disclose what your health status. Most couples have, or should, a talk about their sexual health and status. Having this conversation is very important; however, why do we not prioritize the conversation about mental health status.
For me, discussing my mental health with my partner was scary for a different reason. We had just started dating when I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder. To me, this diagnoses answered a lot of questions; however, to my partner, I knew it would most likely bring more questions. I had to sit for a while and sift through my feelings of what this would possibly mean for us--if I told him. I had to weigh the pros and cons of each option. And after I did this, I determined that the pros outweighed the cons in this situation. And because we had just started dating, if they decided they wanted to "leave" then now would be better than later.
So how did I determine when and if I should/would tell my significant other my mental health status
1. What would happen if I didn't say anything
There is always that thought of "do I really need to say anything" and the answer really is yes, but only when you are ready. As much as my depression causes me to go within myself and kind of not speak, I knew that not explaining that would cause issues down the road. So honestly, the pros outweighed the cons. By saying something, you are opening up a space for full open and honest communication.
2. I needed the support
Not only was my relationship new, so was my diagnosis. Because my diagnosis was so new, I knew that I would need a different kind of support from my friends--and especially someone I was in a relationship with. How could I get support if I did not say anything? So I disclosed my diagnosis to my partner, and thankfully they were really understanding. Even though I needed support, I also needed to clarify what type of support I needed. With a brand new diagnosis, I was still figuring that out. This was something that we could figure out together in a way. It made sense because what better person to help me through a new mental health diagnosis than someone I am in a relationship with by choice.
3. It set the standard
If I did not feel comfortable sharing this bit about myself, I knew that there was no hope for a relationship as a whole. I want to be in a relationship with someone I can trust and talk to everything about. So by disclosing something personal and even something I may need help with, I was able to set the standard for our relationship. Hopefully one that was built on honesty and vulnerability. And I knew if my partner reacted negatively, that this was not going to the relationship I needed to be in--at least at that moment. By setting the standard for what how I wanted our lines of communication to be, I allowed my partner to be honest with me about how my diagnosis may be affecting them (Whether it was not always the easiest thing to hear).
4. It gave me practice
This may sound odd, but it gave me practice on ways to tell others that were close to me. It gave me practice apologizing for some of my actions that I may not have noticed were symptoms of my anxiety and depression. Discussing mental health in the Black community is a difficult thing to do because of the stigma surrounding it, so practicing different ways to tell your loved ones can be beneficial. It can be beneficial to both your emotional health and to your relationships. By no means do you have an obligation to tell everyone you know about your diagnosis, you do not have to start a blog about it (that is supposed to be a joke); however, if you do decide to disclose it practicing with your significant other makes it a little easier for telling others. Honestly, you are going to spend the most time with your significant other than you are anyone else and it is important to get their feedback on ways to better explain things like mental health. Talking about depression is a little bit more complicated than talking about a "physical" health diagnosis, so it is a little understandable for folks to not get it right away. That is why practice makes perfect. And by the time you are ready to discuss it with others, you have your speech, facts, and talking points down.
These are just four the reasons that I decided to tell my partner about my depression and anxiety. It was a difficult decision at first; however, as I thought about it I realized that it was going to be for the best. You should not feel rushed to tell your partner if you are not ready to. I am sharing my story to say that it may be more of a relief than anything else. For me, being with someone I could always be comfortable with no matter my medical diagnosis was (and is) important. It is a tricky subject, and I do not want you to think you are alone. Feel free to comment any questions you may have or even email in the contact page.
Below are some fact sheets that you may find helpful