Mental health issues will affect about one out of every five adults in the United States. These illnesses range from the common – depression, anxiety, or mood disorders – to the less common – like schizophrenia or agoraphobia. They also range from less severe to fully disabling. If you date, you are probably going to end up dating at least one partner who is facing a mental health issue.
Mental health issues present a number of unique challenges for members of the kink and BDSM communities. These issues can affect the way someone feels physically, what someone is open to emotionally, and can change someone’s ability to consent.
What Should I Know About Mental Illness
Just because you have a partner (or are a person) who deals with mental health issues does not mean you are the “Crazy Cat Lady” on The Simpsons. Many people live with mental health disorders and are high functioning adults. In fact, most people with mental health disorders work, have families, and have a place to live.
Everyone living with a mental health disorder experiences it a little differently. While two people may have the same diagnosis, the impact and course of the illness may be different. In fact, people often have the same illness, and yet experience different symptoms. When someone tells you they are living with a mental health disorder, you can ask what that looks like for them. Don’t assume you know what their depression looks like because you live with depression or know other people who have depression.
Mental health disorders are not a personal failing or weakness. While not all disorders are caused by the same thing, mental health diseases are due to things like abnormal brain chemistry, physical changes in the brain and body, and an imbalance in hormones. People with mental illness did not ask for the disease and are not “faking for attention.”
The ‘Secretary’ Fantasy
In the movie, The Secretary, the dominant falls in love with a submissive who self-harms. He tells her she will no longer self-harm and that BDSM will save her. Many dominants have a fantasy that they can “command” mental illness out of their partners. It does not work this way and trying to tell a submissive to simply not have a mental illness can be very damaging.
Most people have to find a way to manage their mental illness. Some people take medication, some people go to therapy, some people use alternative medicine, and some use a combination of all three to help manage their mental illness. It takes a lot of strength and courage to ask for help when you have a mental illness. Just remember, people living with mental illness cannot simply “stop” whatever the problem is.
When a dominant tells a submissive to stop whatever behaviors or feelings are part of their illness, it creates a problem for the submissive. Most subs want to please their dominant. When they cannot stop their mental health issue, they feel like they have failed the dominant. This can create a spiral into depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.
You Cannot Substitute BDSM for Mental Health Care
Just like you are not supposed to sleep with your therapist, you should not turn your sex partner into your psychologist. Kink play and BDSM are not healthy substitutions for mental health care. People with mental health issues need to treat their health issue. This may involve a psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, alternative medical practitioner and more people. Kink play may be a part of dealing with specific mental health issues but is not a substitution for mental health care.
Guest Author: Rebecca Blanton (aka Auntie Vice) is a freelance writer and performer. She holds a Ph.D. (abd) in Political Psychology and now applies that research ability to kink and BDSM. She has been a member of the BDSM community for 30+ years and writes from the perspective as a submissive. She maintains a blog about submission at www.LoveLettersToAUnicorn.com and welcomes discussion about kink.