Mental Health and Relationships: How to Talk About This

Earlier this week, I had an interview with Zongile Nhlapo, Lifestyle Reporter from the Huffington Post SA, @HuffPostSA about mental health and relationships, particularly sharing your mental health with your partner. The article was published on the Huff Post online publication on 17 October 2017.

To see the article on the Huffington Post website, click the link http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/10/17/theres-no-perfect-time-to-tell-your-partner-about-your-mental-health-condition_a_23245701/?utm_hp_ref=za-lifestyle

 

 

Here is the article as written by Zongile Nhlapo:


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There’s No Perfect Time To Tell Your Partner About Your Mental Health Condition

 

Having a conversation with your partner about your mental health condition can be tricky. Do you even tell them you have the condition? And, if so, how do you start the conversation? How far into the relationship should you be? 

“There’s never a perfect time,” said clinical psychologist, Sian Green.

Should one even bring it up?

Speaking to HuffPost SA, Green said it depended on the type of relationship, comfortability and trust levels. “If you’re looking for a deeper emotional connection — where you are understood, cared for and can be vulnerable with your partner, then maybe having a conversation about the condition may be a part of that package,” she explained.

Further, if one feels they are comfortable talking about it, and can trust the person they are disclosing the condition to, it’s better to go ahead.

Bringing the conversation up has other advantages. “The stigma around mental health is still so huge, particularly in South Africa. Talking about it may help reduce the stigma and normalise it as a condition not be ashamed of in relationships.”

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation classified depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

“If you would tell your partner about a heart condition, why shouldn’t you tell them about another serious condition like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder?”

However, Green pointed out, for a shorter relationship, you may opt not to say anything, especially if you suspect that someone won’t be around in the long term.

It might come as a bit of a shock.

How should it be brought up

Green says there’s no one or right way this can be brought up. “Sharing anything vulnerable can be very difficult,” she said.

“But it doesn’t necessarily need to be a serious let’s-sit-down conversation.” The psychologist believes this approach can be intimidating and can bring some anxiety to the receiving partner.

Being prepared helps a lot, as your partner may have a number of questions, she suggested. When you do bring it up, speak confidently and without shame to your partner. “People must realise that it’s normal to have a mental health condition.”

What kind of reaction should be expected

“It might come as a bit of a shock,” cautions Green.

Attempted suicide, for example, can be a heavier subject than anxiety, although both are serious mental health conditions.

“If your partner expresses great shock, be patient as they may need a bit of time to process what you are telling them.”

If the reaction is not supportive, don’t blame yourself. “The good thing is you have been honest and have opened up the dialogue.”

Green also has advice for people whose partners may be dealing with a mental health condition:

  • Listen to your partner. “Don’t shut her or him down.”
  • Educate yourself. “Most mental health conditions are treatable. Show support.”
  • Support your partner. “Social support is a key factor for people living with mental health conditions.”

There are a number of support groups in the country for people who have mental health conditions and their loved ones.