Dating can feel incredibly daunting to most of us. Swiping right is one thing, but actually being brave enough to go for a coffee with Brad, 27, from Pretoria is another thing. Social psychiatry expert Rob Whitley wanted to explore if people with mental illness face more issues in the dating field than those without.
The study, which was published in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, was based on interviews with people suffering from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder.
Only 15% of the study participants were in relationships at the time of the interviews. Of the rest, almost everyone expressed a strong desire for a romantic relationship, Whitley says. ‘We frequently heard statements such as “it would be good to have a girlfriend” or “I am tired of being alone” during the research.’
According to Whitley, the stigma around mental illness was the core barrier in the participants having successful romantic relationships. ‘For example, one stated that she had started dating someone, and it was going well. Then he found her medication, and she never heard from him again,’ says Whitley. ‘Others stated that if they wanted a quick exit during an awkward date, they would casually mention they had a mental illness. Quick enough, their date would leave.’
Apart from the stigma interfering with their romantic lives, the study participants also noted ‘structural barriers’. ‘This was especially so for those with more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, who tended to receive low-income or welfare. This meant they had little money to go dating and were often unable to host romantic interests at home. Dating for them was frequently a non-starter.’
Not only that…
Many of those in the study also reported having suffered from messy break-ups and toxic relationships in the past, which worsened their condition. ‘This meant they tended to avoid the dating world, fearful that new romantic entanglements might lead to further deterioration in their mental illness,’ says Whitely.
How to improve the situation
‘Much research indicates that recovery is fostered when people with mental illness obtain and engage in normative social roles, such as gainful employment,’ says Whitley. Apart from working, being ‘coupled-up’ forms a huge part of a normative social role in most societies. Whitley believes that while there are often interventions in place for people with mental disorders, a focus must be given to ‘relationship goals’ during routine consults. ‘Certain evidence-based approaches, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy, lend themselves well to supporting clients in this regard.’
For more information on mental health, head to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group.
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