“I can’t really handle a relationship right now, I’m just looking for something casual.” I’m sure you’ve come across something similar during your dating app escapades, or you might have even said something yourself. A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that Gen Z is more likely to report mental health concerns and a higher proportion of the generation report mental health issues than their closest relatives, the millennials.
Growing up with the world at our fingertips, we shouldn’t feel lonely, right? After all, the internet has made the world smaller. Never has it been easier to connect with people. Despite the multiple social media platforms, dating apps, and massive Pokemon Go gatherings, Gen Z is actually reported to being the loneliest generation, claiming to have worse mental health than the older generations.
The reasons behind how each notification on your phone went from inducing dopamine to inducing cortisol are plenty, but what we’re more focused on is how Gen Z tackles relationships in times of emotional turbulence, which seems to be the case for most of us.
To get a better insight on the topic, I asked expert psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and works extensively with Gen Z, about why some zoomers anxiously avoid love.
Does Mental Health Affect Your Relationships?
“I can’t deal with a relationship, I barely got myself out of bed today.” First of all, congratulations on getting yourself out of bed (I mean it, it can get hard some days!) Second, statements like these are unfortunately all too common in our current dating scene.
But how much truth does that sentence hold? Is it true that if we’re struggling with mental health issues, they have the potential to affect our relationships as well? “Yes, without a doubt,” says Dr. Aman.
“How you interact with other people will be a reflection of how you interact with yourself. It tends to percolate one way or the other. For example, if you don’t have a high opinion of yourself, you’re likely to seek constant validation from your partner.
“If you can’t stand who you are, you’ll want your partner to like and appreciate you, which, in turn, will prop up your self-worth. As a result, you can end up becoming a little clingy, a little possessive, a little insecure. So if you’re not very confident or sure of yourself in your head, you’re likely to be that way in social situations and romantic situations as well,” he says.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Stephen Chobsky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. When someone who struggles with a mental illness or general self-esteem issues has come to the damaging conclusion that they don’t deserve love, they might be exceedingly anxious about the health of any relationship they may have.
Can people struggling with mental health issues be good partners?
Going through mental health challenges will invariably affect your relationships. Even if self-esteem is something you don’t struggle with, there are often other problems that arise as well. Dr. Aman tells us that mental health issues can affect sexual appetite and cause communication problems in relationships.
“It’s a resource allocation problem,” explains Dr. Aman, telling us that someone struggling with mental health issues might not be able to give their partner attention. “When your partner requires you to step in and offer support, care or empathy, you might not be able to do that. You’re basically in a nerve-wracking situation when it comes to your own problems. How are you going to be available for anyone else?
“You only have a finite amount of resources which you can divert to your partner after you’ve dealt with your issues. But this diversion of resources can happen only when you have a surplus, not when you’re maxed out,” he adds.
It’s clear that the concern Gen Z has about their mental state affecting their love life can be true. However, it doesn’t really have to be a death certificate for your relationship. “Sometimes, it’s true they can be a compromised partner. Even so, there are good partners who may have mental health challenges. It also depends on the degree of the illness and the stability of the partner.
“For example, a person with a personality disorder is likely to be mercurial, but if their partner is super patient and doesn’t have a temper, they can make things work. Unfortunately, it might be a bumpy ride for the partner at the receiving end of tantrums, but there’s no rule that says if you’re not mentally well, you cannot be in a relationship,” he adds.
While the road may be bumpy, a diagnosis of anxiety or depression or any mental illness does not mean you’re supposed to give up on love. You deserve love just as much as everyone else does, even though it might be hard to see how that’s the case on particularly bad days.
Related Reading: How She Coped With Her Spouse’s Mental Illness
What can we do?
Even though your illness doesn’t necessarily spell doom for your relationship, it’s possible that at times you might not be able to give your partner the attention they deserve because you’re trying to deal with your own issues. The question then becomes, what can the solution be?
“They need to start working on themselves,” says Dr. Aman, about what the first step should be for anyone who’s looking to not let their mental health get in the way of love. “Seeking the services of a therapist, embarking on any kind of self-betterment endeavor will help.
“Whether it involves reading books, taking better care of your body, sleeping on time, eating nutritionally balanced foods, cultivating a healthy social circle, being adequately productive in anything creative, or anything that helps give you a sense of self-esteem.
“They say anxious people need a good project, which is a fact. The brain has a way of running around in circles. If you want to break free, you’ve got to shake up the routine, shake up the social circle, and manage the expectations in a smart way.
“That requires mentoring, and that’s where someone like me comes in. I worked with many people to help them streamline where they want to be or figure out where they would like to be and help them circumnavigate those expectations,” he adds.
Where this leaves us
For Gen Z, the struggle with mental health is real. The reasons behind a collective onset of anxiety and depression may seem foreign to us, especially since we can’t even pinpoint the causes of our own individual mental health issues.
However, if you’re struggling on this front but still want to find someone to start a couple’s vlogging YouTube channel with (the closest Gen Z gets to love), the best thing you can do is to start working on yourself.
Anxiety affects every aspect of your life, from relationships to school to your career. When something inexplicable gets in the way of you achieving simple tasks throughout your day, getting to the bottom of it and trying to better yourself must become your top priority immediately.
If you’re looking to get started, Bonobology has a multitude of experienced therapists willing to help you get through any issues you may have, including Dr. Aman Bhonsle himself.
Not only will those after-college party invites be easier to accept but you might even try to strike up a conversation without fearing love. And if you’re a regular Gen-Zer, you’ll just do what we all do, get their Snapchat and snap away.