Disclosing Mental Illness During Dating: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the Partners’ Experience

  • Carmit-Noa Shpigelman
  • D. Roe
  • L. Konopny-Decleve
  • K. Eldan
Original Article


The relatively little research on disclosure of mental illness has mainly presented the perspective of the individual who copes with a mental illness. The aim of this study was to gain an understanding of the phenomenon of serious mental illness disclosure during dating from the perspective of the person to whom the information was disclosed. In-depth semistructured qualitative interviews were conducted with five participants, and the transcripts were subjected to interpretative phenomenological analysis. The findings indicated that the participants who experienced late and partial disclosure had more negative reactions than those who experienced early and full disclosure. Disclosure of a mental illness within the context of dating relationship seems to have implications on the intimate partner and the relationship. The findings highlight the need to support dating couples where one of the partners copes with a mental illness. This support should be provided at an early stage of the relationship.


Mental illness Disclosure Dating Intimate relationship Well-being Interpretative phenomenological analysis 



We are very grateful to the individuals who volunteered and participated in our study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national). Informed consent was obtained from all participants for being included in the study.

Ethical Approval

The study protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, University of Haifa, Israel (reference number 091/14).


  1. Alegría, C. A. (2010). Relationship challenges and relationship maintenance activities following disclosure of transsexualism. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 17, 909–916.Google Scholar
  2. Alegría, C. A. (2013). Relational and sexual fluidity in females partnered with male-to-female transsexual persons. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 20, 142–149.Google Scholar
  3. Altman, I., & Taylor, D. A. (1973). Social penetration: the development of interpersonal relationships. Holt, Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
  4. Bland, R. & Darlington, Y. (2002). The nature and sources of hope: perspectives of family caregivers of people with serious mental illness. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 38(2), 61–68.Google Scholar
  5. Berg, J. H., & Clark, M. S. (1986). Differences in social exchange between intimate and other relationships: gradually evolving or quickly apparent? Friendship and social interaction (pp. 101–128): Springer.Google Scholar
  6. Bos, A. E., Kanner, D., Muris, P., Janssen, B., & Mayer, B. (2009). Mental illness stigma and disclosure: consequences of coming out of the closet. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 30(8), 509–513.Google Scholar
  7. Boschi, S., Adams, R. E., Bromet, E. J., Lavelle, J. E., Everett, E., & Galambos, N. (2000). Coping with psychotic symptoms in the early phases of schizophrenia. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70(2), 242–252.Google Scholar
  8. Breslau, J., Miller, E., Jin, R., Sampson, N. A., Alonso, J., Andrade, L. H., et al. (2011). A multinational study of mental disorders, marriage, and divorce. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 124(6), 474–486.Google Scholar
  9. Bril-Barniv, S., Moran, G. S., Naaman, A., Roe, D., & Karnieli-Miller, O. (2017). A qualitative study examining experiences and dilemmas in concealment and disclosure of people living with serious mental illness. Qualitative Health Research, 27(4), 573–583.Google Scholar
  10. Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: a theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(2), 267–283.Google Scholar
  11. Case, D. O., Andrews, J. E., Johnson, J. D., & Allard, S. L. (2005). Avoiding versus seeking: the relationship of information seeking to avoidance, blunting, coping, dissonance, and related concepts. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 93(3), 353–362.Google Scholar
  12. Chang, K. H., & Horrocks, S. (2006). Lived experiences of family caregivers of mentally ill relatives. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53(4), 435–443.Google Scholar
  13. Chaudoir, S. R., Fisher, J. D., & Simoni, J. M. (2011). Understanding HIV disclosure: a review and application of the disclosure processes model. Social Science & Medicine, 72(10), 1618–1629.Google Scholar
  14. Chaudoir, S. R., & Quinn, D. M. (2010). Revealing concealable stigmatized identities: the impact of disclosure motivations and positive first-disclosure experiences on fear of disclosure and well-being. Journal of Social Issues, 66(3), 570–584.Google Scholar
  15. Corrigan, P. W., & Al-Khouja, M. A. (2018). Three agendas for changing the public stigma of mental illness. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 41(1), 1–7.Google Scholar
  16. Dane, S. K., Masser, B. M., MacDonald, G., & Duck, J. M. (2015). When “in your face” is not out of place: the effect of timing of disclosure of a same-sex dating partner under conditions of contact. PLoS One, 10(8), e0135023.Google Scholar
  17. Derlaga, V. J., & Berg, J. H. (2013). Self-disclosure: theory, research, and therapy. Springer.Google Scholar
  18. Derlega, V. J., Winstead, B. A., & Greene, K. (2008). Self-disclosure and starting a close relationship. Handbook of relationship beginnings, 153–174.Google Scholar
  19. England, M. R. (2016). Being open in academia: a personal narrative of mental illness and disclosure. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien, 60(2), 226–231.Google Scholar
  20. Farber, B. A. (2006). Self-disclosure in psychotherapy. Guilford.Google Scholar
  21. Felton, B., & Tracey, A. (1985). Coping with chronic illness: a study of illness controllability and the influence of coping strategies on psychological adjustment. Pain, 22(2), 216.Google Scholar
  22. Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Fulginiti, A., Pahwa, R., Frey, L. M., Rice, E., & Brekke, J. S. (2016). What factors influence the decision to share suicidal thoughts? A multilevel social network analysis of disclosure among individuals with serious mental illness. Suicide and Life-threatening Behavior, 46(4), 398–412.Google Scholar
  24. Hebl, M. R., Tickle, J., & Heatherton, T. F. (2000). Awkward moments in interactions between nonstigmatized and stigmatized individuals. In T. F. Heatherton, R. E. Kleck, M. R. Hebl, & J. G. Hull (Eds.), The social psychology of stigma (pp. 275-306). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hook, M. K., Gerstein, L. H., Detterich, L., & Gridley, B. (2003). How close are we? Measuring intimacy and examining gender differences. Journal of Counseling & Development, 81(4), 462–472.Google Scholar
  26. Joachim, G., & Acorn, S. (2000). Stigma of visible and invisible chronic conditions. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 32(1), 243–248.Google Scholar
  27. Jones, A. M. (2011). Disclosure of mental illness in the workplace: a literature review. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 14(3), 212–229.Google Scholar
  28. Jorm, A. F. (2011). Public knowledge and awareness about mental illnesses. Oxford textbook of community mental health. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Karnieli-Miller, O., Perlick, D. A., Nelson, A., Mattias, K., Corrigan, P., & Roe, D. (2013). Family members’ of persons living with a serious mental illness: experiences and efforts to cope with stigma. Journal of Mental Health, 22(3), 254–262.Google Scholar
  30. Kessler, R. C., Amminger, G. P., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Lee, S., & Üstün, T. B. (2007). Age of onset of mental disorders: a review of recent literature. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 20(4), 359–364. Scholar
  31. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry., 62, 593–602.
  32. Kogan, J. N., Otto, M. W., Bauer, M. S., Dennehy, E. B., Miklowitz, D. J., Zhang, H. W., et al. (2004). Demographic and diagnostic characteristics of the first 1000 patients enrolled in the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder (STEP-BD). Bipolar Disorders, 6(6), 460–469.Google Scholar
  33. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  34. Lingsom, S. (2008). Invisible impairments: dilemmas of concealment and disclosure. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 10(1), 2–16.Google Scholar
  35. Lyons, B. J., Volpone, S. D., Wessel, J. L., & Alonso, N. M. (2017). Disclosing a disability: do strategy type and onset controllability make a difference?Google Scholar
  36. Moos, R. H., & Holahan, C. J. (2007). Adaptive tasks and methods of coping with illness and disability. Coping with chronic illness and disability (pp. 107–126): Springer.Google Scholar
  37. Moos, R. H., & Schaefer, J. A. (1993). Coping resources and processes: current concepts and measures.Google Scholar
  38. Pachankis, J. E. (2007). The psychological implications of concealing a stigma: a cognitive-affective-behavioral model. Psychological Bulletin, 133(2), 328–345.Google Scholar
  39. Pahwa, R., Fulginiti, A., Brekke, J. S., & Rice, E. (2017). Mental illness disclosure decision making. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 87(5), 575–584.Google Scholar
  40. Peterson, D., Currey, N., & Collings, S. (2011). “You don’t look like one of them”: disclosure of mental illness in the workplace as an ongoing dilemma. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 35(2), 145–147.Google Scholar
  41. Price, M., Salzer, M. S., O'Shea, A., & Kerschbaum, S. L. (2017). Disclosure of mental disability by college and university faculty: the negotiation of accommodations, supports, and barriers. Disability Studies Quarterly, 37(2).Google Scholar
  42. Prince, M. J. (2017). Persons with invisible disabilities and workplace accommodation: findings from a scoping literature review. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 46(1), 75–86.Google Scholar
  43. Robinson, N. M. (2012). To tell or not to tell: factors in self-disclosing mental illness in our everyday relationships. Google Scholar
  44. Rodham, K., Fox, F., & Doran, N. (2015). Exploring analytical trustworthiness and the process of reaching consensus in interpretative phenomenological analysis: lost in transcription. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18(1), 59–71. Scholar
  45. Rose, L., Mallinson, R. K., & Walton-Moss, B. (2002). A grounded theory of families responding to mental illness. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 24(5), 516–536.Google Scholar
  46. Rüsch, N., Brohan, E., Gabbidon, J., Thornicroft, G., & Clement, S. (2014). Stigma and disclosing one’s mental illness to family and friends. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49(7), 1157–1160.Google Scholar
  47. Schwarzer, R., & Taubert, S. (2002). Tenacious goal pursuits and striving toward personal growth: proactive coping. Paper presented at the Beyond coping: meeting goals, visions and challenges.Google Scholar
  48. Seeman, M. V. (2013). When and how should I tell? Personal disclosure of a schizophrenia diagnosis in the context of intimate relationships. Psychiatric Quarterly, 84(1), 93–102.Google Scholar
  49. Skundberg-Kletthagen, H., Wangensteen, S., Hall-Lord, M. L., & Hedelin, B. (2014). Relatives of patients with depression: experiences of everyday life. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 28(3), 564–571.Google Scholar
  50. Smith J. A. & Osborn M. (2003). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In: (ed Smith JA) Qualitative psychology: a practical guide to methods, Sage, London.Google Scholar
  51. Smith, J. A., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: theory method and research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  52. Smith, R., Rossetto, K., & Peterson, B. L. (2008). A meta-analysis of disclosure of one’s HIV-positive status, stigma and social support. AIDS Care, 20(10), 1266–1275.Google Scholar
  53. Sprecher, S., & Hendrick, S. S. (2004). Self-disclosure in intimate relationships: associations with individual and relationship characteristics over time. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(6), 857–877.Google Scholar
  54. Steffens, B. A., & Rennie, R. L. (2006). The traumatic nature of disclosure for wives of sexual addicts. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13(2–3), 247–267.Google Scholar
  55. Stuart, H., & Arboleda-Flórez, J. (2012). A public health perspective on the stigmatization of mental illnesses. Public Health Reviews, 34(2), 12.Google Scholar
  56. Tal, A., Roe, D., & Corrigan, P. W. (2007). Mental illness stigma in the Israeli context: deliberations and suggestions. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 53(6), 547–563.Google Scholar
  57. Tandi Lwoga, E., & Florence Mosha, N. (2013). Information seeking behaviour of parents and caregivers of children with mental illness in Tanzania. Library Review, 62(8/9), 567–584.Google Scholar
  58. Trinidad, S. B., & Starks, H. (2007). Choose your method: a comparison of and grounded theory. Qualitative Health Research, 17(10), 1372–1380. Scholar
  59. Venville, A., Street, A., & Fossey, E. (2014). Student perspectives on disclosure of mental illness in post-compulsory education: displacing doxa. Disability & Society, 29(5), 792–806.Google Scholar
  60. Watts, C., Watts, P., Collier, E., & Ashmore, R. (2017). The impact on relationships following disclosure of transgenderism: a wife’s tale. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 24, 302–310.Google Scholar
  61. Waugh, W., Lethem, C., Sherring, S., & Henderson, C. (2017). Exploring experiences of and attitudes towards mental illness and disclosure amongst health care professionals: a qualitative study. Journal of Mental Health, 1–7.Google Scholar
  62. Wittmund, B., Wilms, H.-U., Mory, C., & Angermeyer, M. C. (2002). Depressive disorders in spouses of mentally ill patients. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 37(4), 177–182.Google Scholar
  63. Yardley, L. (2008). Demonstrating validity in qualitative psychology. In J. A. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative psychology: a practical guide to methods (2nd ed., pp. 235–251). London: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community Mental Health, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health SciencesUniversity of HaifaHaifaIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

Personalised recommendations