Telling your boyfriend or girlfriend you have a mental health problem

Want to tell your new love interest you have a mental health issue, but worried they’ll run a mile? We spoke to Helen Cleather from SANE to find out when to do it, what to say, and what they might say.

Girl and boy walking in a garden together

When do I bring it up?

When you like someone and they like you back it’s great, more than great, it’s amazing. But if you have a mental health issue, that niggling thought – when do I tell them? – can ruin the honeymoon period.

Maybe you’ve been holding off for a while, impressing them with your wonderful, uncomplicated qualities first. Fair enough. But now you’ve realised just how much you like them and you want them to know everything. And yet, you’re terrified that telling them will scare them off.

“It can be really painful and difficult to tell people our innermost thoughts about our mental health,” says Helen. “But it’s best to be real, as it can lead to a stronger, more authentic relationship.”

When do I tell them I have a mental health problem?

There’s no set point by which you have to have told them, or any time when it’s too early, either. Every relationship is different. However, now might be the time to tell them if:

You trust them. The most important thing when you talk to anyone about your mental health is that you trust them to treat you with respect and not to tell anyone else.

It’s more than just a bit of fun. If you’re pretty sure this isn’t a fling, and you can see them becoming a big part of your life, you’ll need to be open about your mental health eventually.

The fact you haven’t told them is bothering you. If you’re that worried you’ve not told them yet, then it’s probably time you did. Plus, you’ll feel relieved once you do.

You feel ready. Talking about your emotions and mental health can be painful. If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to tell your partner, discuss it with someone else first. Talk to someone you trust, or give SANE a call.

What should I say?

“Think about how much you want to share and how quickly,” says Helen.

Telling anyone about the things you’ve done or felt because of your mental health issues can leave you feeling embarrassed – especially if you’re falling for them. Decide what you want them to know now, and which things you’ll leave until another time.

Our article on ‘telling people you have a mental health problem’ has more information about good ways to do this.

How will they react?

They could react in a number of ways – from being confused or scared, to really understanding and supportive. Annoyingly, you won’t know until you tell them.

“If you’re in a relationship it can be pretty hard to hide our true selves,” says Helen. “So your partner may already be living with the reality of the mental health issue anyway.”

Having a mental health problem doesn’t change who you are – you know that, but your partner may not. You might have to explain this to them, especially if they didn’t know anything about your condition before. Describe how your thoughts and actions are affected and this will help them understand you better.

Make sure your boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t the only person you tell, even if they’re super supportive. This would be overwhelming for both of you – it’s much better to have a wide network of support.

Will they break up with me?

It’s easy to think ‘they’ll dump me once they know,’ but, even if that’s true, do you want to be in a relationship with someone who can’t handle such a thing? After all, what kind of relationship would that be? And you may actually be surprised by how accepting they are.

If they do end it, don’t blame yourself. “Your partner was the one who said they didn’t have the capacity or strength to get through it together, not you,” says Helen.

Relationships end for a number of reasons, and break-ups are always hard. Give yourself time to be upset before you move on… then move on to someone who knows how lucky they are to have you – mental health problem and all.

Next Steps

  • SANE offer support and information to people affected by mental illness. 0300 304 7000
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Relate is an affordable relationship and sex counselling service. 0300 100 1234
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 17-Nov-2015