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Dating when you have a mental illness

By Paul Dinsdale
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Starting a romantic relationship can be difficult at the best of times, even when we are feeling good about ourselves and 'in the mood' for beginning something new. We all know that human relationships are one of the fundamental ingredients in our lives, and probably the most important, as we are social animals, and we can achieve happiness and fulfilment when they go well. But what about when we are not feeling so good about ourselves, or are experiencing mental health issues, such as depression?

'Failed' relationships

In treating clients, many clinical psychologists have to deal with the issue of past or current relationships with partners, or in many cases broken or 'failed' relationships. These can be a source of unhappiness and depression for many people. In some cases, a troubled relationship can lead to a person experiencing depression or, in other cases, depression can be caused by other factors and then lead to problems in relationships.

Depression can affect people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms, according to psychologists. The symptoms can vary from lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful. Many people with depression also experience symptoms of anxiety.

There can be physical symptoms too, such as feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, having no appetite or sex drive, and complaining of various aches and pains.

The severity of the symptoms can also vary. At its mildest, you may simply feel persistently low in spirit - what we commonly call 'feeling down' - while at their most severe, depression can make the person feel suicidal and that life is no longer worth living.

Most people experience feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety during difficult times. A low mood often improves after a short time, rather than being a sign of depression.

There are a very effective range of treatments available for people with depression, including cognitive behavioural therapy ( CBT), which involves discussing your behaviour patterns with a clinical psychologist or counsellor, and discussing how these could be changed and improved; and drug therapy, including a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which target areas of the brain believed to be responsible for causing depression or making it worse.

When the time is right

Clinical psychologists will often have their own views and guidance which they will be able to offer on starting relationships, or dating, for someone who has experienced depression, so there is no one 'best' way to approach the subject.

"There is no right or wrong way to go about dating for a person who has been in this situation," says Dr Jessamy Hibberd, a clinical psychologist who practises in west London. "It should usually be up to the person, him or herself, to decide when the time is right to go on a date or a series of dates, but the main rule of thumb is that they should feel comfortable about it. We all know that meeting new people, especially on a date, can bring on some anxiety and nervousness for any of us, and it would be strange if it didn't, but in someone who has experienced depression, or other mental health issues such as anxiety, it can be far more stressful, as it is a one-to-one situation which they might have been avoiding for a while, and they may feel that the other person is examining or judging them.

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