How to Talk to Someone You’re Newly Dating About Your Bipolar I Diagnosis

Talking about your mental health can be hard, but there are real benefits to being open.
Dating with bipolar disorder
Sophi Gullbrants

Dating someone new can make even the most confident among us nervous—who hasn’t workshopped the exact right wording of a casual text? If you’ve recently been diagnosed with bipolar I, you might also be workshopping how—and at what point—you should tell a person you’re seeing about it. 

First things first: A medical diagnosis is highly personal. Your decision to share your diagnosis is just that: your choice. “Some people say, ‘Bipolar disorder is part of me, and I’m going to let anyone who knows me know this about me,’” David J. Miklowitz, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, tells SELF. But when this condition is news to you too, odds are you might still be processing your diagnosis yourself—and you may not feel ready to share it with someone you’re not yet seriously dating.

That’s totally fine. As with any other detail about your life, it might not feel right to talk about your bipolar disorder diagnosis if you’re in the early stages of connecting with someone. That said, you may want to be upfront about your condition if you think there’s a possibility that you want to build a longer-term relationship with them—or if you simply want to share this information about your life! There’s no need to feel like you have to “hide” this.

Do a little self-reflection about why you want to share, and what you’re hoping will come of it, to inform your approach. “You want to have an end point in mind,” Dr. Miklowitz says. “Do you want to get [your bipolar I diagnosis] off your chest? Do you want them to know you on all levels? That should help guide you.”

If you’re considering sharing your bipolar I diagnosis with someone you’re newly dating—for whatever reason that feels right to you—try these tips from mental health experts on how to do it with an eye to open communication and trust. 

Remember that you’re not defined by your diagnosis.

As your doctor has likely shared with you, bipolar disorder is a condition that can cause extreme mood swings with high highs and low lows. Bipolar I, in particular, can cause manic episodes that last for at least a week or longer, along with depression that can last for at least two weeks. 

As you think about sharing your experience with the condition, keep in mind that a bipolar I diagnosis isn’t the only thing in your life. “Having bipolar I does not define who you are as a person,” Samar McCutcheon, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. “When sharing this information with others, you are sharing your experience of a mental health condition that you have been diagnosed with, which is no different than a physical health condition, such as asthma or diabetes.” 

Think about it this way: A person recently diagnosed with asthma or diabetes takes steps to care for their well-being with the right treatment plan. And while your symptoms might differ from the symptoms of those conditions, you’re likely taking similar steps to treat bipolar I—so just like people with those conditions, you’re handling your health responsibly. 

Thinking about bipolar I disorder from a strictly medical, fact-based viewpoint on your own can help you normalize it internally. When you feel comfortable with your diagnosis on your own terms, you’ll probably come off a bit less nervous if and when it comes time to talk to a partner about it. 

Don’t feel pressured to disclose health information right away if you don’t yet know a person well enough. 

How much you share about your diagnosis, and at what point in your relationship you choose to do it, is entirely up to you—don’t feel like you have to divulge every detail right away. “Some people may feel comfortable sharing their diagnosis early in a relationship, and others may prefer to wait until the relationship is more established,” Dr. McCutcheon says. See how you feel about sharing and when it might feel right.

You’re not obligated to ever share with people you’re just getting to know. “You don’t need to fully disclose this information in a more casual relationship or when you’re just getting to know someone,” Michael Thase, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, tells SELF. You’re owning your treatment and are in control of your condition. And if you’ve made it to the first, second, or even fifth date (nice!), chances are your new partner likes what they’ve learned about you so far. That’s a good sign in the event you want to open up a bit more—but again, no pressure.

If you’re in a committed relationship, or you think things are headed in a serious direction, Dr. Thase says it might be beneficial to talk openly about your diagnosis and to give it a bit more consideration than you would in a more casual scenario. That’s because bipolar disorder can sometimes impact a person’s relationships,1 particularly when it comes to intimacy, parenting, and other areas that significantly affect how we behave in long-term partnerships. 

This is a pragmatic approach for both you and the person you’re dating: A partner’s support can be an invaluable tool as you navigate your symptoms and treatment.“Getting your partner in on the care plan is a real asset,” Dr. Thase says. Down the line, they may be able to help you to recognize what tends to trigger your mood swings or provide you encouragement to stick to a regular medication schedule. 

Use whatever language you prefer as you talk through your diagnosis.

There’s often a stigma attached to bipolar disorder—and knowing how much of that stigma your partner believes can be murky early on. 

Dr. Thase encourages people to speak more generally about the condition at first and frame up what it really is (rather than getting bogged down in misunderstandings) before you explain your diagnosis more fully. 

Dr. Thase recommends saying something like, “I’m being treated for a mood disorder. It’s been properly diagnosed and a good, effective treatment [plan] has been worked out. I think that you and I might be going places, and I want to make sure there are no secrets between us.” (For what it’s worth: If you believe your partner will react negatively to your diagnosis, consider if they’re the right person for you to begin with.)

From there: Don’t be afraid to be as candid as you want, as a supportive partner should be understanding and curious. “The term ‘bipolar’ isn’t something to be ashamed of,” Dr. Miklowitz points out.

The most important piece of all of this, of course, is knowing who you’re talking to—and what stage the relationship is in. Consider running your script by a trusted friend (who loves you and understands bipolar disorder) for a gut check if you’re unsure. 

Prepare for a range of reactions—and be ready for follow-up questions.

In an ideal world, the person you’re dating will listen and be supportive of your bipolar I diagnosis. In reality, it may not go smoothly at first if your partner has never personally known someone with the condition. They may be confused about it, particularly because people with bipolar disorder tend to be unfairly framed as dangerous or unpredictable2 in popular culture. Dr. Miklowitz recommends asking your partner how much they know about bipolar disorder and where they got that information. 

The person you’re dating may have questions about your diagnosis, so be prepared to answer them as clearly as possible. “It can be helpful to explain what bipolar disorder is, as some [people] may not have heard of it or may only have seen it portrayed in movies or shows,” Dr. McCutcheon says. You might hear people in everyday conversation casually label unpredictable circumstances as “bipolar.” Those associations can be harmful to the folks who actually have the condition. (You can also remind the person you’re dating that bipolar disorder is common: An estimated 4.4 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with it at some point in their lives.)

Dr. McCutcheon recommends reading about bipolar disorder on websites like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health if you’re still learning about it yourself. You can also direct your partner to these resources if you feel it might help them better understand your condition. 

It can also help someone get their head around the reality of bipolar I if you lay out your symptoms and treatment plan, Dr. Miklowitz says. This might include explaining what your mood swings tend to look like and how your partner can be most supportive during those periods, he adds. 

Don’t internalize someone else’s ignorance if it doesn’t go how you hoped.

If your partner is open to talking about bipolar disorder and shows a willingness to understand your condition, you can do your best to educate them. But if they’re truly not receptive, it’s a lucky break for you to find that out early, Dr. Thase points out. “You ultimately don’t want to be in an intimate, long-term relationship with someone who doesn’t get you or accept you for who you are,” he says. 

Dr. Thase says you can let your partner know that you’re happy to answer any questions they have—if they are supportive of your journey.

Just like you might pause before going into too much detail with a new partner about a confusing relationship with Mom or credit woes, what you choose to share about your condition (and when) is up to you. Remember, too, that your partner is falling for the person they’ve interacted with so far—bipolar I diagnosis and all! If you’re truly right for each other, they’ll get it.


  1. Medicina (Kaunas), The Impact of Bipolar Disorder on Couple Functioning: Implications for Care and Treatment. A Systematic Review
  2. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Stigma in Bipolar Disorder: A Current Review of the Literature
  3. International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, Stigma in People Living With Bipolar Disorder and Their Families: A Systematic Review