OK Cupid was fun, for like, the first half hour. All these cute boys to potentially chat with, all the cute boys I was already chatting with, and to top it all off, they have that awesome “match percentage” thing to help you figure it from the get to go. For those who haven’t made a foray into the online jungle that is OK Cupid, the match calculator takes your answers to their profile questions (of which there are quite a few) and matches them against those of everyone else on the site.

I had spent the past hour trying to build the courage to message this cute guy. He was tall, had few classy, well-placed tattoos, and was studying somewhere downtown. He smoked, which I wasn’t a fan of, but no one’s perfect, right? We had a high match score, and started checking out his answers to the questions. Every question made me that much more excited and gave me just a little more confidence to send that first message. But then I decided to go one page too far, and this little nugget of a question popped out,

               Would you ever date someone on an antidepressant?

I consoled myself with a quick reminder that he did smoke… no one’s perfect, right? It was more than a little deflating. I had a pretty good list of things filed under “Why I’m dying alone” but until that point, I hadn’t realized that would be one of them.

I did some research and found out that taking antidepressants was actually a huge red flag. I read some concerning stories about good, normal people who had taken on the burden of dating one of the millions of people in this country with a mental illness. One man lamented that sometimes his ex-girlfriend “just felt sad for no reason” and sometimes just didn’t feel like doing anything. It wasn’t so bad at first, but once she started getting bad, he bailed. Others noted, probably correctly, that chicks are crazy enough without head-meds, how crazy could one on antidepressants be? Women are emotional, as we know, and emotions are a bad thing. It definitely isn’t this sort of thing that further stigmatizes both the mentally ill and women.

Forums across that behemoth of rationality and intelligent discussion that we call “the internet” were filled with such horror stories. Some even more generous people offered that they “Didn’t care if she used to take them, but she needs to get her shit together.” Many others felt hurt that their partners hadn’t shared this vital information sooner. One young woman was forced to dump her boyfriend after several months of dating when she found out he was on antidepressants. “It explained a lot,” according to the poor thing, “why he would act so sad and tired some days for no reason.” Comforting people when they are sad is tough work and definitely not something someone in a relationship should have to worry about doing. This discussion concluded that it was definitely the responsibility of the person taking antidepressants to inform their partners before things got serious what medications they were taking and what their symptoms were.

Some people did have legitimately concerning stories. One man left his girlfriend after coming home to find that she cut her ankles and was huddled in his bathroom in a little pool of blood. Another left her boyfriend after he became verbally abusive and threatened to kill himself if she ever left him.

These are legitimately frightening situations, and if you feel that a relationship is not healthy or that if you may be in danger, I do advise you to seek help and get out. The problem here is that these stories of people with mental illness, which are really stories from around the margin, have become mainstream stories applied with blanket precision to everyone with a mental illness.

So, to start off Project Ava’s observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’d like to give you five quick fixes on mental health about which you may not have been aware.

You know someone with a mental illness. Around 1 in 6 Americans has a mental illness and 1 in 4 families will be affected by mental illness in any given year. If you know more than six people, chances are, you know someone with a mental illness. Mental illnesses range from popular media portrayals like schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addiction, to subtle diseases like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Unless there are physical manifestations to these illnesses, like being very underweight, you probably would never know a person had any of these conditions.

It is all in their head. Kind of like a brain tumor. Like actually, though. Using brain scans, researchers have found that the brains of people with depression actually function differently than those without depression. Overtime and without treatment, the structure of their brains actually changed as well. Mental illnesses are no different than any other disease. They are cause by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, can be treated but not necessarily cured, and symptoms can be managed

Mental illness is not an excuse for people’s behavior. It might be an explanation for their behavior, but it doesn’t make it acceptable. If someone with a mental illness is mistreating you, you have every right to call them out for it or break off the relationship, in whatever context that might be. But assuming that everyone with a mental illness is going to be abusive is just kind of stupid. Like actually stupid.

If you don’t want to date someone with a mental illness, that’s entirely your prerogative. But wait, what!? Yep, it’s totally true. You are, as a free and independent person, allowed to look at the data and make your own conclusions and decisions about your life. If you go out on a few dates with someone, and they reveal that the reason they turned down that drink at dinner was a problem with substance abuse that they have worked very hard to get control over, you are more than allowed to end it with that person. People will call you names but other people would probably still call you names if did go out with that person. You are not allowed, however, to treat that person like they have a problem or like they are less than you. They are caring for themselves and living their life. You were the one with the problem. Side note: don’t expect people with mental illnesses to give you their medical histories on day 1, or really, on day 100. Unless you are paying for their medication or have legal guardianship over them, it isn’t any of your damn business.

Mental illnesses are not contagious. But thankfully, smiling is. If this article brought a smile to your face today, I hope you share it with your friends. Even if you don’t share the article, I hope you find another way to share smiles today 🙂

Ava Love,

Charlie