When To Talk To Your Partner About Your Mental Health Issue, According To A Psychologist

by Emma McGowan
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People who are struggling with mental health issues have a few extra things to deal with. Maybe they're participating in therapy. Maybe they're taking medications. Maybe they've found other ways to manage their illness. But a big thing is knowing how and when to tell a partner that there's something kind of big they should know.

"Talking about a mental health issue can be nerve wracking, uncomfortable and embarrassing," Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "And yet it is no different from talking about a physical health issue. Part of the problem— besides stigma— is simply a lack of understanding very often by the person with the problem and the partner who is being told."

Timing is important when you're telling a partner about mental illness. You probably don't want to blurt it out on the first date, for example. That's because, unfortunately, there's still a lot of stigma around mental illness. Sharing all of your diagnosis and treatment history right away could scare someone away before they know other important things about you. Like how sweet you are. Or how your nose scrunches when you think. Or how you're fiercely intelligent. It's a lot easier for people to get past preconceived notions that they hold about a mental illness when their brains are already full of other information about you.

So that's one tip — probably don't spill it all out on the first date. And here are five more tips from Dr. Klapow to help you make what can be a scary, tricky conversation a little easier.


When You've Educated Yourself

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Your partner may have a lot of questions, so it's a good idea to make sure you have at least some of the answers.

"The best time is after you have been educated on what the issue is," Dr. Klapow says. "Whether that’s talking to your doctor first, seeing a mental health professional or even doing a Google search. Talk to your partner with some foundation of information. This is critical."

It's important to remember that your partner may be worried about it, even if they don't show it. "Very often partners are scared, they don’t understand, they don’t know what to say or do," Dr. Klapow says. "So the natural response is to downplay it, convince you that you are wrong or otherwise make it go away. If you can have some level of information first, you will be in a much better place."


When You Have A Plan

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Your partner is going to have a lot of questions, so make sure to go into the conversation with at least the beginning of a plan in place.

"Talk to your partner when you either have a plan for how to move forward (i.e. I’m going to get help) or when you feel stuck and need their help (i.e. I can’t do this on my own)," Dr. Klapow says. "The more you can engage your partner in what you need the easier it is for them to help."


When You Have Time

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Don't bring up the subject when you're about to walk out the door or right before their parents show up for a visit. You're definitely going to need time to talk about it.

"It doesn’t have to be hours, but so often talking about a mental health issue takes time," Dr. Klapow says. "People believe they know what 'diabetes' or 'high blood pressure' or even 'cancer' is. But when you bring up something like depression, or a phobia, or an addiction there are often more questions and doubts. So have some time because there will be many questions."


When You Fear For Your Life

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There's one situation where you have to tell your partner about a mental health issue and that's if you're scared you're going to hurt yourself.

"If there is a point where you feel unsafe; that you can not trust yourself; that you may do something to harm yourself," Dr. Klapow says. "Then, no matter what, talk to your partner."

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.


Not When You're Dealing With Other Stuff

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If you have some other big issue you're dealing with that isn't related to the mental health issue, you might want to wait to bring it up.

"It's not a good idea to bring it up when the relationship itself is dealing with a significant problem," Dr. Klapow says. "It’s not that everything has to be great in the relationship, but the mental health issue can take a big chunk of time and energy."

Talking about mental health is never easy and when it's a conversation as consequential as one with a partner, it can be even scarier. But remember: You are strong. And you've got this.