Mental Illness and Dating Culture

One of the unspoken but important aspects of living with mental illness is how it affects relationships - particularly romantic ones. Emily Christie discusses how mental illness is portrayed in many aspects of dating culture - whether it be through stereotypes of mental health and sexuality, or the notion that dating those who have mental health issues is a negative experience and should be avoided.

There is a joke that is returned to again and again, that “crazy girls” are good in bed. TV shows such as ‘Two and a Half Men’ make repeated references to this kind of out of control yet erotic figure, who is dehumanised and reduced to their sexuality and their apparent illness. This image is not only confined to fiction, though, with internet threads, forums and Facebook pages including RooshV being littered with this idea combining sexiness and “craziness”.

This indicates a basic lack of respect and understanding for mental illness, that comes from being uninformed and relying on an idea that “crazy” is a blanket term for any sort of instability or issues. As well as being disrespectful, it creates a harmful image that all people with mental illness should be able to perform these extreme sexual acts, with some individuals even trying to seek out those with mental illness for these apparent benefits.

This idea of the uncontrollable, wild individual extends to more negative ideas. Upon researching a new mental health diagnosis, many people can stumble onto internet threads talking about dating people with various mental illnesses. Some can be supportive, with issues including depression and anxiety having some great articles and resources detailing how to cope and help a loved one with mental illness. However, some are more worrying, disparaging and outright misinformed and hurtful, particularly with mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, which seem to be less well understood and considered more dangerous or “scary” by many people. There are multiple comment threads, forums and posts on websites including Reddit telling people to avoid dating people with certain illnesses, sometimes even saying it’s dangerous or that it will only end badly.

Mental illness obviously affects relationships, and can negatively impact them, but this blanket treatment and shunning of a whole group as somehow defective or unable to be in healthy romantic relationships is shocking, and hurtful for those affected by these illnesses. There is a sense of demonization of certain, or all, mental health issues; the idea that people affected are somewhat damaged or flawed when it comes to romance. That, again, comes from an overwhelming reliance on stereotypes and a lack of understanding of the individual effects of mental health.

We need to think more about how people with mental health issues are portrayed and talked about in terms of dating culture. Instead of demonising, stereotyping and eroticising images of people with mental illness, more information needs to be available to normalise and help understand affected individuals. This is a small but concerning issue that indicates wider problems in the way society thinks about people with mental illness. As more people talk about these issues openly, the stigma and stereotyping surrounding those with mental health issues will lessen. Dating can be difficult for those struggling or living with mental health issues, but it is by no means impossible, and it should not characterise them as “unlovable” or “crazy in bed”. Those with mental health issues are just as varied and complex as those without, and we need to start personalising the image of those with mental health problems instead of confining them to a series of harmful and hurtful stereotypes.