According to the mental health charity, Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England alone, 1 in 6 people report experiencing depression or anxiety every single week. Eleanor Segall is one of those six, having lived with bipolar disorder for 13 years. Here, she shares her candid account of what so many millennials struggle with every single day: finding love while secretly battling a mental health disorder. Eleanor reveals in honest detail the judgement she faced in her quest for "The One" and how she finally learnt to open up about the taboo illness and let herself fall in love.
"I sat on my bed with tears running down my face. 'I have something to tell you', I said to my boyfriend, two months into dating.
"It isn't easy and I wanted to tell you sooner but I didn't want to share it too soon. Three years ago, I was hospitalised for my bipolar disorder. I didn't want to tell you, in case you saw me differently or thought I was 'crazy'. I wanted you to get to know me for me and see my personality and who I really am without it."
He looked at me with genuine care and said, "Eleanor it doesn't matter. I want to be with you for you, the fact you have an illness doesn't bother me in the slightest. I want to be educated on it. Tell me more."
So, for two hours, I told him everything. I told him how I had been diagnosed at 16 with bipolar affective disorder and how it may run in my family. I told him there could be times when I would be unwell with severe depression or mania and would have to stop working, that I had had psychosis in the past - but that I was medicated with Lithium and anti depressants to hold my moods.
I told him I had been hospitalised as a teenager and, at aged 25, my life had been far from easy, but that the love of my family and support from my medical team, had saved my life. He listened, supported and held no stigma towards me or my illness. It was a revelation after many years of dating men that may not have always understood how best to support me or for whom I was not 'the one'.
With disclosure of a mental health condition and because I was diagnosed so young, there were many years of dating fear for me. I feared others judgement of the fact I had bipolar and at times this turned into anxiety prior to going on dates.
I was worried that people would think I was different or not worthy enough and when I look back, that is because I was struggling to deal with how I saw myself. As a teenager, you don't want to be different, you want to fit in and as I reached my early 20's, I began to be very anxious about dating. My self esteem had taken a battering as well as I had had my heart broken in a past relationship, which led to depression and anxiety.
I survived the heartbreak, however, I knew that I wanted to settle down with someone and have a family, but I didn't know if it would ever be possible. Particularly after I was in hospital, I had no idea whether there would be a man who could deal with my illness and all it can entail.
There were so many times when I cancelled dates (often blind ones set up through well meaning friends or family) because I would get so nervous, my heart would race and I would be terrified that they would see through the well cultivated veneer. On first and second dates particularly I always felt I was hiding something: my mental health past.
But I wasn't alone. According to the mental health charity, Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England alone, 1 in 6 people report experiencing depression or anxiety each week.
Celebrities including Stephen Fry, Britney Spears, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Demi Lovato have all talked about their struggles with bipolar disorder.
A year and a half after I left hospital and had recovered, I began to date again and signed up to an online dating website to meet new people, set up through acquaintances. The social anxiety was at its height and I often had to cancel dates two or three times before meeting. Some men gave up on me due to this, but some understood.
A year and a half after being fully back on the dating scene, I met my current boyfriend. We clicked from our first date in a coffee shop and our second date (drinks at a lovely local pub).
On the third date when we met at The Shard viewing point and watched the sun go down, I knew it was turning into something special. He listened and we talked about his family and mine. We talked about mental health from our second date and I knew he understood it because there was lived experience there. It was a very new experience for me to have someone in my life who understood mental illness and cared for me. We have now been together for 16 months and although we don't live together currently, we are making future plans and have met each others families and friends.
So what have I gleaned from my experience of dating with a mental illness? It can be a total minefield. If you suffer with low self-esteem or anxiety like I do, just getting to the first date can be a struggle but what kept me going was my belief that he was out there and that I so wanted to find him. As I am a religious person, I prayed a lot to find someone. I also did lots of types of dating - online apps, online matchmakers, face to face dating and cooking classes.
When you date with a mental health condition, you'll just know when it's the right time to disclose. I would advise disclosure once you really know someone and know they are a safe and trustworthy person to disclose to. It is important not to hide such important information for months on end and to ascertain if your partner has any underlying mental health stigma. It's good to educate your partner, too. Trust your intuition and keep yourself safe. And remember it's more than OK to talk about mental health."