Ask Him: Conversations About Dating & Mental Illness

Q: “My friend just started dating this guy who is super nice, and I actually really like him. I’ve met his friends, too, and everyone is cool. She texted me last night to say she saw an envelope (in plain sight) on his dresser with a Post-It on it saying ‘receipts from time at [a residential psychiatric hospital].’ So does she A) bring up she saw it, B) not say anything and perhaps wait to see if he tells her later on that he may have been in a mental institution, or C) pray she doesn’t end up on the news? She told me she’s thinking of either confronting him, or looking through his medicine cabinet for meds.”


A: Well. This is certainly a delicate, nuanced situation. Your friend has many options, and there are a slew of outcomes for how this could shake out. For one thing, she has absolutely no idea whether her boyfriend (I’m going to call him boyfriend to make it easier for all of us, even if they aren’t at that stage yet) has spent time as a patient in a psychiatric facility, and if he has, she has no idea what for. To add another layer of complexity, there’s the very likely possibility that he wasn’t a patient, but has those receipts because a family member, close friend, colleague, former girlfriend, etc. was being treated and he is in some way helping them pay or organize their finances. There are other reasonable explanations I haven’t even thought of that don’t have to do with the boyfriend being mentally ill or unstable.

A delicate situation like this one should definitely be handled very delicately. And honestly.

Thankfully, it isn’t like your friend was snooping around or rifling through her boyfriend’s dresser drawers or medicine cabinet [HINT]. She saw something he had sitting out on his dresser. She wasn’t violating his privacy. So this should reduce her hesitance to bring it up to him — something I think that she should do, and as soon as possible. The longer she waits around silently, the more wild theories she’s going to concoct, and that’s to nobody’s benefit.

She should ask him, straight up, about the receipts. But she should make sure he knows that she wasn’t rifling through his belongings, and that he can feel comfortable telling her about it — that she’ll keep it to herself if he wants her to, and that she won’t immediately break things off with him because he has some issues. (Which means you wouldn’t know about it, but hey — you can’t always get all the information about your friend’s relationship, and that’s a good thing.)

Mental illness is a tough thing to talk about, especially when you’re first entering a romantic relationship. People who have struggled with these issues (myself included) tend to worry that most will view it as a deal-breaker, even though they have it under control and do not let it run their life. Because there is still a certain stigma around telling someone you suffer from depression, anxiety, etc. You’d also be very hesitant, I imagine, to reveal that it got to a point where you had to check into an in-patient facility to recover.

If he is the one the receipts belong to, he’s probably already looking for an appropriate time to tell your friend. He’s got to do it before they get too serious, one would imagine, if he is back to a healthy place and is an honest person. So she can give him that opportunity. It could end up being a great conversation, one that gets a lot off his chest and allows them both to be much more comfortable with each other. Or he’ll tell her it has nothing to do with her, explain the situation, and she can quit worrying about the entire thing.

She should absolutely not search for medicine. That’s a huge violation of privacy — one that you can’t really come back from. If she does that and finds medicine, she’s either going to have to confront him anyway, or break things off with him by either disappearing or making some untruthful excuse. If she pulls the latter, that could contribute to sending him back into some sort of very negative spiral.

I hope things work out for your friend and her new beau!

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