With more young people talking openly about their mental health journeys on social media and dating app bios, psychologist Sonali Gupta shares ways in which you can be mindful of your date’s mental health.

Couple sitting by a lakeImage for representation/Pixabay
Voices Mental Health Sunday, October 10, 2021 - 11:58

One of the questions that I get asked often - and more so in the pandemic - is, “How can I be a better person when my date is dealing with a mental health concern?’ While it’s heartening to see that more young people want to build safe spaces for their partners, the question is a reminder of how we don’t really have vocabulary or a template that allows us to support our partner in a way that’s not intrusive and most importantly, at their pace.

Whether you are a young person looking to date, exploring what it means to be in a relationship or someone already in a committed relationship, the pandemic has impacted all of us and our mental health. Global research data shows that there has been an increase in anxiety, stress and loneliness that GenZ is experiencing, and as a therapist, I see this reflected in my practice too. A lot of young people are openly talking about their mental health journeys, including on social media or in their bio on dating apps. Tinder, in its report titled ‘Future of Dating’ shares how mentions of ‘anxiety’ and ‘normalise’ in bios grew during the pandemic (‘anxiety’ grew 31%; ‘normalise’ grew more than 15X). The wellbeing of our intimate relationships is deeply connected to how our partners feel supported and understood by us and also comfortable in sharing their authentic selves, which includes the challenges they are dealing with on a daily basis, including their mental concerns. So, here are some ways you can be mindful of your date’s mental health.

Check for consent. Even if your date has mentioned ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’ in their bio, check if they are comfortable talking about it rather than assuming so. A good question could be “I noticed that you mentioned anxiety in your bio, is that something you would want to talk about?” or “I understand that mental journeys are deeply personal and if you want to talk about it, I’m around and ready to listen.” When people choose to reach out or talk about their mental health, it is a personal choice; choose to respect their decision and pace. If you don't know how to, resources like letstalkconsent.com help. 

Learn not to dismiss/ridicule or trivialise. A statement such as “You are making a big deal of anxiety” or “Be strong” can be deeply damaging for a person who trusted you with their mental health concerns.

Ask questions that allow your date to feel comfortable. While there is enough information about anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns on social media, how the symptoms show up differs from person to person. A good question to ask is, “Tell me more about how anxiety or panic attacks show up for you.” This question shows that you are listening, making an attempt to understand and not generalising their symptoms.

What ‘help’ and ‘support’ can entail: In my book Anxiety : Overcome it and Live Without Fear, I describe that as a caregiver, or partner, help can exist in 3 ways: in the form of physical presence; as emotional presence, understanding and listening to the other’s narrative; and it can be in the context of helping the person find resources or referrals with respect to mental health professionals.

Offer help and support in ways it works for the person.  Choose to check-in with your date  about how they want to be supported.  Merely asking your date if they would like to seek help and subsequently encouraging them to, is another small yet sure way of showing support. Scheduling an appointment with a therapist or accompanying them for the first appointment may be the kind of support they may be looking for. At other times, they may only want you to share a list of resources. Mental health practitioners are available through an array of modes today – online, social media, over the telephone as well as in person. Dating apps like Tinder have also made resources for mental health including therapy sessions, guided meditations and more available to its members in-app.

Invest in understanding. If it’s anxiety, depression, or other conditions, read about these and make an attempt at understanding how mental health conditions can manifest in various ways and vary in the context of severity and frequency of symptoms. It’s okay to acknowledge that while you may not be able to fully comprehend what the other person is experiencing, you are here to offer an attentive presence.

Just as you continue to be emotionally and physically present for your date, make a decision to also engage in self-care, where you learn to take care of your own needs too.

Sonali Gupta is a clinical psychologist and an official consulting psychologist for Tinder India.

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