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The importance of Mental health in dating and relationships
There's an old expression that essentially says "We have nothing if we don't have our health." Unfortunately, its use has always been in reference to our physical health, or to the absence of any chronic or life threatening physical ailments. But what about our mental health and how it impacts not only our day to day functioning, problem-solving and coping, but also how we feel about ourselves and how well we can connect and relate to others, especially when in an intimate relationship?
Many people today are reporting symptoms of stress and depression. These people are not just overburdened working parents, disaffected teenagers, the sick and elderly or those who live at or below the poverty line. They include many single, childless adults, a number of whom have good careers and adequate finances, and married people with good resources and supportive spouses. Therefore, mental health issues cut across all socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic lines--and often the problems are not clearly visible to others who interact with a person who is struggling. They might just appear to be in a funk, having a bad day or under a lot of pressure at home or work.
So how can someone who is actively meeting and dating spot problems in someone they have recently met, are attracted to, or have just started dating? If someone is in a new relationship with someone who at times appears moody, mercurial, withdrawn, and/or hard to interact with--how can they know if this is just a bump in the road and not something more serious? The short answer is that you cannot read someone's mind, however you should not ignore your instincts and decide to let things go in the hope that the problem will pass and things will be "back to normal" soon. If someone is suffering from something more than the blues, time won't help, and in fact, the condition often worsens when someone enters a new relationship, moves towards commitment and marriage, and/or has children, and begins carrying all the extra financial and emotional weight that these bring.
Among the singles and couples that I have worked with, I have encountered many who struggle with a mood disorder. I have also noticed an increase in younger people taking prescription medication for depression, anxiety, and/or ADD, and an even larger number who self-medicate with pills, marijuana, or other drugs which are often illegal. It's an issue that everyone who has the goal of a stable long-term relationship should not take lightly, and for those who are either taking prescription medication or self-medicating, you need to make your mental health a priority if you hope to realize those relationship goals.
The first thing everyone should know are the classic signs of clinical depression and anxiety. You may be wondering about someone you are dating or in a relationship with or you may be suffering from feelings that you need help with, but are afraid or reluctant to confront. Whichever one is you, familiarize yourself with the following.
Symptoms of depression:
* Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions
* Low energy
* Lack of interest in activities you used to care about
* Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, pessimism
* Persistent sad or empty feelings
* Negative thoughts, comments, outlook on life
* Thoughts about self-destruction
Symptoms of anxiety:
* Trouble falling or staying asleep
* Gastrointestinal problems- persistent
* Shaking, trembling, pounding heart, light headedness, shortness of breath, dizziness
* Feeling out of control or fear of going crazy
* Difficulty concentrating
As you can see, some of these symptoms overlap. It is important to note that they are also similar to symptoms of some physical conditions and it is always wise to rule those out first. However, if you have more than one of the above, if your symptoms are persistent, if they have an impact on your work, personal life and/or relationships, you should seek help. If you are dating someone or in a relationship with someone who is displaying several of these and trying to write them off to normal life stress or a recent difficult event, encourage them to seek help.
Most importantly, do not think you can help someone "get over" their problem by loving them enough, offering a lot of support, fixing things that they say they just can't deal with or handle, and/or offering any assistance that essentially makes them dependent on you and reinforces their belief that they are not capable of addressing or managing their issues on their own. Lastly, do not think a proposal will fix the problem. A healthy and satisfying marriage requires two functioning, mature adults who can support each other and have one another's backs as they move through all the changes, demands, and challenges that the years will bring. Otherwise, one person ends up carrying the weight for both, which leads to resentment, anger, burn-out, and often a desire to end the relationship.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.
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