If you're vulnerable or struggling with your mental health, you may need to take some extra steps to protect your wellbeing. But don't let it stop you from dating altogether.
Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year, so if you're struggling at the moment, you're far from alone.
But what does that mean for our dating and relationship prospects? Should we stop looking for love altogether when we're feeling vulnerable? The answer is not necessarily - but there are some extra steps that we can take to help to minimise the chances of dating affecting our mental health in a negative way.
Here are our five rules on how to approach dating - even when you're mental health isn't the best.
1. Don't use dating as a distraction
We've probably all - at some time or another - felt sorry for ourselves, and looked to online dating as a way to change. But looking for validation through others can be very damaging for our wellbeing.
If you're not in best place emotionally, the people who you seek out, or whom you believe that you're worthy of, may in fact be very toxic.
It can feel 'comfortable' to look for someone else who is 'just like you' - so you may find yourself drawn to someone else with the same challenges. And although empathy is important, it is rarely a healthy combination. Equally, if your confidence is low, you may be more easily lured in by someone unsuitable just because the attention is flattering.
Another common behaviour is to date someone in a lower league, or who we're just not that in to - because, even if it goes wrong - you hold the cards and feel a form of safety from knowing that the person is unlikely to hurt you. That’s bad form on both sides.
Instead, try to go for someone that you inspire to be, or who has healthy traits, or who’s putting their own wellbeing first. You don’t want someone who’s super career driven and barely has any time for you; remember, you deserve someone who’s going to match the amount of energy that you’re putting into the process.
2. Don't overshare too soon
Poor mental health isn’t just something that we 'get over'. You can learn how to manage it, but it’s an aspect of ourselves that takes continual hard work and mindfulness. We're human, and different things will come up all the time, whether it’s daily, monthly or twice a year.
There’s still so much stigma around mental health because we think of it as a burden. So when you’re dating it can be tempting to overshare straight away. You don’t owe people a disclaimer and, equally, your mental health isn’t your personality. It’s just something that is part of us all, and we’re all on a spectrum of learning to deal with.
3. Avoid crutches such as alcohol
A lot of adult socialising revolves around drinking. Dating especially tends to involve a lot of restaurants and bars, but whatever mental health issues or worries you may have, drinking will usually make them worse.
Sober dating can be a harrowing suggestion for British people, because we’re so awkward we sometimes feel that we have to have 'Dutch courage' before we can even go in for a kiss. But if you know that you and/or your partner are having a rough time - then do something different, and don't use alcohol to numb feelings of insecurity, anxiety or emotional pain.
Instead, consider going to a gig, an art gallery or a market - or just a walk around. Think outside of the pub and try to do things that will make you feel good, rather than feeling bad and numbing it by going to a bar.
4. Have confidence: you can still be a great partner
And your own experiences with poor mental health (either that of your own, or that of an ex-partner, friend or family member) can help you to become just that.
The first thing to consider is how to be a supportive partner yourself, because everyone experiences periods of poor mental health. For this reason, if you've been going through the same, it places you in a good position to show true understanding and empathy.
You'll know, too that circumstances can change. You could meet someone when they’re stable, and something might happen – to do with family or work, maybe – that seriously affects their emotional state. Here, your own past experiences can help you to promote stability and routine, know which questions to ask, encourage them to seek support, or do something mindful like meditation together.
For those people who have never had challenges with their own mental health, it can be easy to just say, 'You'll be find, come on, let’s go and have lunch', but that can often isolate your partner and make things worse.
Through shared experiences, you'll know that, even though it's tempting to deal with things by chasing distractions, it’s much healthier to invest in each other. This can make you a real asset in any future relationship.
5. Don't write yourself off
The messaging around dating and mental health tends to be that you shouldn't do anything until you’re completely ready. Other popular advice is that you should work on yourself first, or not date too soon after a breakup.
It's important to remember that there's nothing inherently wrong with you; you're not a bad or broken person just because you're suffering with your mental health.
As long as you don’t stop making progress or caring for your own needs the minute you start dating, then why not just go for it, anyway? You could spend your entire life 'working on yourself', but if you close yourself off to experiences then you’re never going to connect or grow.
It's really important for people to remember that you can still be a really good and supportive partner, and you are worthy of being loved even when your mental health isn’t perfect. You don't have to be this ideal person before you put yourself out there.
You’re not 'broken': you’re just a normal, living human seeking a healthy connection - just as many others are.
Online dating has revolutionised the way we meet and connect.
Although some may perceive online dating to be more likely to be used by those seeking hookups, there are now options for those seeking more meaningful long-term connections - such as the REDDI platform. This is how many couples, who eventually go onto have long term relationships, will meet.
Always take your time, be mindful - and prioritise safety when dating online or in person.
Do you want to join an exclusive, members-only dating club
for those who want healthy relationships?
We are currently accepting applications. You can apply to join REDDI today!
You might also like:
Feeling Down? Why 'Blue Monday' is the Worst Day of the Year for Relationships (iamreddi.com)
Founder Blog: World Mental Health Day - The Importance of Relationships (iamreddi.com)
Why Hookup Culture Is Bad For Romance (iamreddi.com)