How To Break Up With Someone With A Mental Illness

It’s taken a long time, but society is finally to the point where it’s okay to talk about mental illness. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who struggles with these issues, it’s important that you be able to talk about it openly. It’s also good to be a little extra sensitive if there comes a time when you want to walk away. That doesn’t mean that you can’t break up with someone just because they suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. However, you may want to do things a little differently. Here are some things that you should know about ending a relationship with someone who has a mental illness.

  1. Know that it’s okay to break up with them. First of all, it’s okay to leave a relationship if it’s not working for you. I mean, it’s a little cruel to dump someone simply because they have a mental illness, but you also have to look out for yourself. If you’re not happy inside the relationship for reasons unrelated to the person’s state of mind, it’s okay to get out. You shouldn’t feel obligated to stay. Keep that in mind and don’t feel guilty because you’re making the right decision for yourself.
  2. Do it in person. Some people can be a little callous with breakups nowadays, but just try to be sensitive if your partner has a mental illness and do it in person. This is not something that can or should be done in a simple text message. To break up with someone who has a mental illness the right way, do it in person. In fact, do it in person no matter who you’re ending a relationship with.
  3. Make sure their symptoms are stable. Timing is always an important factor in breakups, especially when one person has a mental illness. The last thing you want to do is pile onto their problems or exacerbate their condition. I know it’s not always easy to get the timing right. You certainly don’t want to hang around too long if you’re not invested in the relationship. But mental illnesses can be tricky, so you will want to deliver the bad news when the other person seems to be handling their symptoms relatively well.
  4. Make sure they have a support system. Frankly, we all need a support system after a serious breakup. Someone with a mental illness will surely need people around them to fall back on. I mean, just because you’re ending your relationship doesn’t mean you don’t care about them or don’t want them to be taken care of. Consider letting one of their friends or family members know ahead of time. That way, you know somebody will be watching out for them in case the stress of the breakup causes their symptoms to worsen.
  5. Anticipate how they’ll feel. Obviously, it’s tough to put yourself in the position of a person with a mental illness if you’ve never experienced the same. However, that’s why you and your partner should talk about their mental illness openly. You need to have some understanding of the condition. That way, you can anticipate if breaking up with them will make their symptoms worse. The more you know, the better. If you can anticipate how they’ll react, perhaps you can help to cushion them in the aftermath of the breakup.
  6. Explain yourself. Being honest and open is critical for anyone with a mental illness and the people around them. If you’re dumping someone who suffers from mental health issues, explain to them why. You don’t have to sugarcoat it or make excuses, just be honest. They need to understand why it’s happening and not be left to wonder why. Again, this is one reason why it’s important to do this in person.
  7. Answer their questions. Along the same lines of explaining your reasons, you have to be willing to answer any questions they have. They might have a strong reaction to getting dumped and you need to be there to hear it and answer any questions they have. I’m not saying this part is going to be pleasant, but someone who suffers from depression or anxiety can’t be left with unanswered questions about the breakup. Answer every question as best as you can and always be honest with them.
  8. Set post-breakup boundaries. I think we all know that going from being in a serious relationship to not being in a relationship is a big life change. For someone with a mental illness, the change can be even more challenging. It can be good to plan out what the relationship will be like after breaking up. If there’s a lot of uncertainty, that won’t be good for the other person. Is this going to be a clean break or will you try to remain friends? Will there be a no-contact period? Can the person your dumping still come to you for help? Admittedly, it’s a little unorthodox to hash these things out immediately following a breakup, but it can be a necessary step for someone with a mental illness.
  9. Keep tabs on them. If you break up with someone who has a mental illness, it doesn’t hurt to check up on them periodically after the breakup. Surely, you still care enough about the person to want to know that they’re doing fine. If it helps, you don’t have to contact the person you dumped. Just get in touch with one of their friends or family members to make sure everything is fine. If they’re struggling, perhaps there will be something you can do. But if they’re fine, it will be good to know that breaking up with them didn’t exacerbate any of the challenges created by their mental health challenges.
Bryan Zarpentine graduated from Syracuse University and lives in upstate New York, where he writes largely about the world of sports. His work has appeared on Franchise Sports and WSN, among others. You can find him on Twitter @BZarp.