How much should you reveal about your mental health to someone you’re dating? When’s the right time to discuss it with a new romantic partner? How should you tell them, and when? How will they react? Will it be okay?
The truth is, there’s no single answer that fits every situation. But there are tips to help you make the choices that are right for you.
The best time to talk about your mental health is when you feel ready, and when you’re not actively struggling with a period of ill mental health.
You don’t have to say anything on your first date, but as intimacy grows it’s a good idea to start the conversation. If it goes well, you can enjoy your relationship without wondering. And if it’s going to be a deal-breaker for your new partner, it’s better to find out sooner than later.
Choose a time and place where you’re not going to be rushed or interrupted, and when you’re both open to discussion. If either of you are tired, distracted or have been drinking, it might be best to wait.
Write notes or a rough script of what you want to say and rehearse it with a friend, family member or health professional. That way you can anticipate any questions or comments that might come up.
Start with the most important facts. What do you want your partner to know up front? What will they want to know?
What parts of your illness are hardest to explain to someone unfamiliar to mental illness? Plan how you’ll describe them. Terms like ‘psychosis’ might be intimidating for your partner. It might help to describe experiences and symptoms first, like: ‘when I’m unwell I sometimes feel … and when that happens I …’
Prepare for how you might feel as you tell your story. Will you be calm, or angry? Will you cry without being able to talk? Will you want to shut down?
Your partner will also have feelings. What if they want to grab and hug you? What if they’re shocked? What if they ask an unexpected question? What if they don’t know what to say?
In an emotional situation, it’s useful to have reliable information at hand. A good place to start is SANE’s Facts & Guides page. You can read the relevant factsheets together and talk about how they apply to you.
Finally, if you trust your new partner, be honest and open. For your relationship to work, for them to understand and provide support, they need to be informed.
It’s natural to get anxious at this point. Remind yourself: there’s a reason you’re with this person, and a reason they’re with you. They like you.
Start the conversation gently. Try your own version of ‘I feel like we're heading in a great direction, so I wanted to tell you something,’ rather than framing it dramatically.
As you talk, ask your partner how they’re feeling. Some people take on new information quickly, while others need time. Provide the same support and cooperation for them that you hope they’ll offer you. Let them know you’re available to listen and answer questions.
Your partner might express concerns about your illness. That’s not necessarily a judgment or rejection. Caring about you, they might be concerned about things like suicide and self-harm.
Their first reaction might not be helpful — they might change the subject or respond with unhelpful advice or clichés. Give them time. This might be their first conversation about mental illness. Even if they’re empathetic, they might not know the truth from the mental health myths, at least not yet.
Your partner might not be able to offer good support at first. It doesn't mean they don’t still care about you. Educate your partner about what you need, and reassure them that their needs are equally important to you. As in other parts of the relationship, you’ll learn how to care for each other.
If it goes well, and if you both feel comfortable with it, your partner could visit your health professional with you. They can ask questions and develop a better understanding of your experience and needs.
But if your relationship ends after your conversation, it doesn’t make them or you a bad person. It just means it didn’t work. It’s sad, but sadness passes. Talking about your illness can be a safe part of a relationship, so don’t let it stop you getting close to people you like.
Look again. Try again. Talk again. You’re worth it.
Mental Health Carers Australia (formerly ARAFMI National)
1300 554 660
Mental Health Carers Australia seeks to explore and strengthen the mental health caring role, develop knowledge, improve skills and offer support to reduce isolation and enhance the caring journey, and advocate on behalf of carers.
1300 364 277
Relationships Australia provides relationship support services to enhance human and family relationships.