Dating and mental health, a series.
It can be a full-blown depression, lighter depression, anxiety, social anxiety or any other form. These tips should be general enough to cover those generally but please remember that I am NOT a healthcare professional and can only talk from my varied life experience. Of course, each person is different and you should always do your own research and consider the particular situation you’re in before following any advice.
Understand the problem.
A popular way of explaining how mental and physical strain works to people who don’t suffer from similar issues is “The Spoon Theory”.
Imagine your daily energy resource as a quantifiable recourse. Now imagine that each task you have to perform is like taking a spoon and dipping it into your energy bag.
For you, getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth and getting dressed might all ‘cost’ only one spoon, but for someone who’s in a bad place this can take up a significant amount of their daily spoon allowance so they might avoid doing it to 'reserve' those spoons for other tasks.
Understand they have fewer spoons to use each day than you do, and if something seems easy to you, it doesn’t mean it’ll be easy on them. Reading up and educating yourself about their particular condition can be a great help in navigating how to handle it for the both of you and can also be a powerful tool in helping them overcome it.
Image source: Sharon McCutcheon
- Be patient and help where you can.
If you’re able to help with those things that are simple for you but require more spoons from your partner, they'll appreciate it. Ask them about the issues they're struggling with.
- When I get depressed I neglect my environment and my room can get extremely messy. I hate living that way but also don't feel I have the ability to do it myself. For a long time, I used to ask friends to come over and sit with me while I tidy. They didn't have to do anything apart from keeping me company.
- Doing it myself made me feel more capable than I felt at the time, having someone around for company made the process less hard and kept me accountable. When I finished I felt better for having a clean and organized space and very accomplished since when my room was messy, it was a constant reminder of the fact I wasn't doing well and 'fixing' that felt like an incredible step in the right direction.
- Encourage healthy behavior and seeking help.
Encourage your partner to seek professional help, and make sure they're aware they won't be judged for it. Try to make sure they keep a healthy lifestyle. Mindfulness, good quality and sufficient sleep, eating whole, unprocessed, healthy foods and exercising can do wonders to help with mental health symptoms. It might not be immediate but it's been proven by countless studies all over the world to have an incredible effect. It also helps with maintaining a good routine which is also important to stabilize mood.
Try not to offer unsolicited advice.
- Active listening is an incredibly powerful tool. I understand the frustration of seeing someone you care about dealing with hardship and wanting to ‘fix it’, but you can’t fix them. When I talk about my problems, I do it to organise the constant overwhelming wave of self-doubt I have, explain what I’m feeling and generally to try to dial myself back from overthinking every piece of my life. When my ex kept cutting me off to offer his solutions to my problems, it made me feel judged, damaged, and resulted in me folding back into myself and doubting myself even more.
- But when my friends would then ask actual questions about the topic, would ask me how I feel, where it’s coming from, why I am feeling that way, how this situation is different from others where I was happier, things suddenly got clearer and a lot of times I felt much better and was able to put things in words, come up with real solutions that worked for me and have a better understanding of how I felt.
Image source: Brian Oldham
- Make sure they understand when you express affection.
Different people express love and affection in different ways. When things are good, mismatching love expressions might not cause problems but when someone is already feeling down, having to question their relationship on top of that can cause them to sink lower.
- There’s a psychology test called “The 5 Love Languages” which you can take for free online, to help understand better how you and your partners differ, and to adjust based on the results. The idea behind it is that if you have your own way of expressing your emotions which your partner doesn’t share in the same degree, they might miss it when you’re doing your best since they express it in another way.
- The five ways to express love according to the book are: Physical touch, acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation and gifts. If for example to your partner “physical touch” and “acts of service” are most meaningful, cuddling with them when they feel bad, and helping them by making them food or taking care of a small chore will make them feel more loved than getting them a gift a telling them “I care about you”.
- Take care of yourself, for the both of you.
- Make sure they understand when you express affection.
When you love someone and want to help them, you might end up neglecting your own needs. Make sure you follow the same protocol of having enough rest, a support system, someone to talk to, a healthy diet and time for yourself.
Keep your well being as a high priority and no matter how much you want to help, don't sacrifice your own well being for them, it won't help the situation and will make both of you miserable. Only do what you are comfortable with doing, and if needed, ask your partner to respect your boundaries.
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Try to remember that your partner is doing their best. They can't just 'snap out of it' because if they could, they would. Open and honest conversation with careful language that won't make them feel judged can help them to open up in explaining what they think is the cause of their issues (if there is a cause), it can help them with expressing what type of help they might need.
Open and judgment-free communication can also help them feel accepted since this can be a very isolating condition and loneliness is terrible for good mental health. Be patient. You can't 'fix them' or take away the issues, but knowing that you are there for support can be an important step towards their recovery.