THE BLOG
11/11/2013 09:13 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Dating and Mental Illness

A friend of mine recently went off of his medication for chronic dysthymia, and it was a disaster to his relationship with a woman he was dating. This has been part of a pattern of on-again/off-again with his medication for some time.

Last year a friend of mine came to me for help. He was very despondent and seemingly even contemplating suicide. I encouraged him to seek out a mental health professional and even suggested that he may need medication. He was concerned that this may mean he was weak or defective. I explained this wasn't the case. There should be no shame in seeking mental health guidance or treatment. Shame can be found if you don't take care of your self and seek help.

Off his medication, his relationships were always a source of anxiety and stress for him. They often resulted in obsessions about infidelity. He often said to me, "She did... (fill in blank). Am I wrong for thinking she is wrong?" Or he would say, "You just don't do that to someone," to which I would say or think what was done is really not a big deal. However, once he was diagnosed with chronic dysthymia he went on celexa, and his relationships started to have more meaning. He suddenly stopped being so suspicious of infidelity, and things that previously annoyed him started to roll off his shoulder. He reported to me that people at his place of work even started to notice that he was pleasant to be around. I even noticed his road rage was less frequent on medication. He wasn't a "doped up zombie" as many people fear they may become on a medication; rather, he was normal.

Unfortunately, the side effect of the medication was that he gained about 10-15 pounds. But this was hardly noticeable to me. Consequently, my friend went off his meds. As a result of going off his celexa his moods came back. He split up with the woman he would be then dating. I encouraged him to go back on and he did. But this cycle of on-again, off-again, persisted. Being off his medication ruined several relationships since he was irritable and pessimistic.

About two months ago he went off his medication. But the affects didn't take effect immediately. His body was still under the influence of celexa. At about the same time he went back on Match.com, where he met and started dating a woman. He and this woman were doing just fine for about a month. But then the honeymoon period wore off, the celexa was pretty much out of his system and his symptoms started kicking in. He suspected that she may be cheating on him after she canceled a date with him. He took the canceling of a date to be a very personal affront to him and disrespectful of his time. After a very heated text message exchange and followed by a phone call at 3-4 a.m. The woman he was (and as of this writing still is) dating was very put off by his aggression, which was really masking his insecurity.

We talked later in the day. He asked me if he was in the wrong or the right. I said in a very gentle way that this pattern of "meeting a woman, things going well, and then his suspicions of her" keeps recurring in his relationships. The concern he has with the current woman are the exact same accusations he made about other women he has dated. He realized that he really screwed up with this woman. Over and over again he said, why do I keep doing this? I told him maybe, just maybe he really needs his medication and he should talk to his therapist about this. Later that day he went to the pharmacy and got a refill for his celexa.

That night he had a heart to heart with this woman. But before he spoke with her he told me he was concerned that if he told her about his dysthymia she would reject him. I told him if she can't handle him with dysthymia then he is better off without her. In fact, the NIMH estimates that about 45 percent of the population suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life, either as a temporary condition such a postpartum depression or a more chronic condition such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. With this in mind it would behoove anyone seeking a partner to be compassionate and understanding of people with mental health conditions; if you don't, you are going to reduce the pool of potential partners by about half right away.

I have personally seen how a person can function better in a relationship on medication, and I have seen how the same person doesn't function well off medication. This is only a case study of one person and should not be considered a representative sample of what to expect.

The point of this blog is to let people out there know that there are other people who need a little help through a medication. They need that little extra support to make it so that little things roll off their shoulder.

There is no shame in seeking treatment or medication. And you are probably not alone if you think no one else has experienced a situation that you are experiencing. Medications are not right for everyone, but for some people they offer that little extra support in life to make life more enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with this. Being happy in a relationship may depend on it.

For the record, I am not my "friend" disguised writing in the third person. The person I wrote about is a real different person and this is a true story.

Paul Heroux is a state representative from Massachusetts on the Joint Committee Mental Health & Substance Abuse, and the Joint Committee on Children, Families & Persons with Disabilities. Paul has a bachelor's in psychology and neuroscience from USC, and a master's in public administration from Harvard. Paul can be reached at paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

For more on mental health, click here.

For more by Paul Heroux, click here.