How To Talk To Your Partner About Your Mental Health
I've always identified as a "worrywart", but never considered myself to be someone who struggled with anxiety. Then a few months ago, I experienced my first panic attack. Unable to breathe or control my physical reaction, my partner's guidance and support was invaluable. He talked me through breathing techniques that allowed me to slowly calm my mind and bring clarity to my thoughts. I was so grateful for his patience, and acceptance. I still am.
Unfortunately, talking to your partner about your mental health isn't always so simple. According to a 2017 report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness each year, but only 41 percent of them actually reach out for help.
I was raised in an environment where mental health was seen as a taboo subject. Upon leaving home, I began educating myself on a variety of mental health issues, and made it my mission to normalize it's discussion within my circle. Overtime, my partner and I have been able to developed an honest dialogue about mental health. We have addressed everything from anxiety to depression, and have learned so much from each other's experiences. Our talks have been an incredibly enlightening outlet for me, after growing up in a household that felt somewhat secluded.
If you're dealing with a mental health issue, you're definitely not alone. But it can be hard to talk about it with a partner, especially if it's something you're not used to talking about. Below are some useful tips for opening up to your partner about your mental health — because sometimes, the first step can feel like half the battle.
1. Make Sure You Understand Your Own Mental Health Condition
Before opening up to your partner about your mental health, do some research or talk to your doctor to ensure that you are able to give them detailed information. If you haven't been diagnosed accurately, it might be helpful to get a second opinion from a licensed professional.
"Do you know the specific signs and symptoms for your condition?" Dr. Gary Brown, psychotherapist and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "It’s important to know this so your partner can understand what the impact is on you, and how it may at times impact your relationship."
2. Know If You Have Any Family History Of Mental Illness
This can be important information to know before talking to your partner about your mental health, as they might ask — especially if you're in a serious long-term relationship and talking about having a family.
"Sharing this information can obviously be a big scary, but hiding it from your partner is...well, not being a good partner — they deserve to know," Dr. Brown says. "If they decide to end the relationship on the chance that your child might inherit a mental condition, they have done you a great favor as they are clearly not a good parenting match for you, even if they might have been a good match otherwise."
Your mental health is not a relationship disqualifier: trust in the bond you and your partner share, by being honest with them.
3. Timing Is Everything
Make sure that you don't flout your mental health around in the middle of an argument, or use it as a bargaining chip. Pick a time to talk about your mental health when you feel stable, and at ease.
"If, of course, it is so painfully obvious to your partner that something is wrong, then that might be the very best time to let them know," Dr. Brown says. "They will have an opportunity to understand and empathize with you."
4. Pick A Comfortable Location
This is truly difficult conversation to start, so put yourself at ease by choosing a location where you feel secure. Try to avoid someplace too public — aim for a place that feels both personal and intimate.
"Ideally you want to talk with your partner in an environment where you generally feel safe," Dr. Brown says. "Most people find their home is the best place because they feel safer in a more familiar surrounding. Maybe consider taking a stroll in the park and sitting on a bench, or a patch of grass where you can have a more private conversation. You deserve that!"
5. Consider Your Partner's Perspective
As you begin a dialogue with your partner, make sure to pause at certain points and check in, asking questions and ensuring that they are following your train of thought and processing the information.
"You can simply ask them: 'What is it like for you to be hearing this from me?', 'I’m wondering what you might need right now?', 'Are you OK having this conversation?'," Dr. Brown says. "Let them know that you want them to feel free to ask you any questions."
6. Educate Your Partner On Your Mental Health
If your partner is truly 'The One', they will want to learn more information and educate themselves on whatever you are going through. Make sure that they understand that what you need is their acceptance, not their pity.
"Certainly empathy is a large part of love," Dr. Brown says. "The very good news, is that there are so many resources to help with your partner’s education — and yours — about your condition. Having this knowledge will help you both to learn how to cope and make healthy adaptations in your relationship."
7. Share All The Good — Not Just The Bad
Talking to your partner about your mental health is a huge step, but don't just stop there! Walk them through what you are doing to address it, whether that be therapy, medication, or even practicing mindfulness.
"You can let them know what has worked and hasn’t worked in the past," Dr. Brown says. "This is also an ideal time to let them know what they can say and do that would be helpful...and also what might not be helpful." By sharing everything, you two can now grow together.
If you are experiencing issues with your mental health, don't be afraid or ashamed to reach out to a professional for help — but it truly can be beneficial to talk to your partner, especially in a long-term relationship.