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 V.17 No.47 | November 20 - 26, 2008 

Talking Points

Love Medicine

Social worker builds a dating website for the mentally ill

Elizabeth Barrett says when two people with mental illness date, they can understand and empathize with each other.
Eric Williams
Elizabeth Barrett says when two people with mental illness date, they can understand and empathize with each other.

Social Worker Elizabeth Barrett noticed something about her clients combatting mental illness: Those in relationships were thriving. "With people who had these social connections, signs of the illness diminished, and they were staying healthier for longer periods of time," she says.

The observation sparked a business idea for Barrett and a coworker. From Albuquerque they built a national dating website for the mentally ill called trueacceptance.com that's been operational since the summer.

So far, there are about 250 profiles. Because those with mental illness are often on a budget, the site is free. Barrett intends to eventually make money from True Acceptance through advertising.

The founders still work full time in case management. Barrett says once the word is out, she believes there's a community longing for a service like this.

What are the challenges people with mental illness face in the dating field?

If they're trying to get out there, the stigma in the community is huge against people with mental illness. The publicity that people with mental illness get is always someone with schizophrenia committing a crime. Or that you're more dangerous if you have a mental illness, which is totally not true.

Because people are on a path to recovery, they might be in different stages. Let's say you weren't feeling that well and you were trying to go out and meet people and you were saying stuff that wasn't in touch with reality, or maybe you were a little uncouth. People who don't have mental illness would be really judgmental, and they might not want to date somebody like that.

People who don't have mental illness would be really judgmental, and they might not want to date somebody like that.

Elizabeth Barrett

How can dating someone else with a mental illness be helpful?

Let's say somebody with schizophrenia was dating somebody who didn't have it, and then all of a sudden they started isolating and wouldn't leave the house. Maybe they stop taking showers or something, or they weren't able to do self-care. The person they were dating might be like, "Whoa! I can't handle this. This is too much for me."

The people we were working with were in and out of the hospital all the time. So that would be tough if you were dating somebody who didn't understand that. "Why does my boyfriend have to go to the hospital? That's weird. Why is he having to check himself in? Why is he not sleeping at night?" Things like that the general population couldn't really empathize with or couldn't really understand.

Is there any potential downside to introducing two people with mental illnesses to one another?

I don't know. When I was working at the clinic, we even had people within our program who met and got married. Actually, I think it could be bad if people are both very severe and they need a lot of help, and maybe they are clashing somehow. From what I've seen, it can be more harmonious. If you have a recovery mentality, and you're in a relationship and [the person you're interested in] has the same mentality, I think it will work out.

The only time it won't work out is if one person's like, "You know what, I have bipolar, and I need help. I need to take my medication every day and talk to my case manager and talk to my psychiatrist." And the other person's like, "There's nothing wrong with me. I'm fine. These doctors and these social workers are just shoving this all down my throat. They're the ones with the problems, not me."

That could happen anywhere in any type of relationship. Say one person's an alcoholic and the other won't admit it. Any issueyou can fill in the blanks.

How do you know that the people on the site are well enough to start dating? Or is that just a misconception on my part, that you would need to be "well enough"?

I don't know if there are any markers. Each person on their own would have to decide whether they were well enough. I'm assuming if people started talking to each other, they would realize whether the other person appeared ready.

If you were seriously actively psychotic and not in touch with reality, I don't think it would be a good idea to start dating. Other than that, people feel they're on this road to recovery from mental illness. And it's their choice about whether they're ready to get out there and be with other people yet.

Who can sign up for True Acceptance?

Anybody can sign up on our website and get a profile.

Is there a screening process?

It's free to put up a profile. The thing is that when somebody puts up a profile, it does bounce back to us. And we look over them before we say they can activate. If there's anything that appears to be inappropriate in any way, we delete it and an e-mail gets sent to that person. That hasn't really happened that much.

Do you think there's any chance that a website like this could become a predatory environmentthat someone would want to manipulate someone with a mental illness?

We kind of thought about that before. That's why we have that "Dos and Don'ts." There's also a link, so when you start talking to someone you can get a background check on somebody. Those are things we put in there as safeguards.

Why do you think this site is valuable?

It's providing a service to people who otherwise have a hard time meeting and socializing with other people. It's helping them have happier, healthier lives. With support in their lives and partnership and with friends, their life's going to be more full, it's going to be more fun, it's going to be happier. Having that experience of working with people with mental illness, a lot of them are really lonely. They are secluded. They are isolated. A lot of times they are taken advantage of because they don't have other people there as a support system.

 

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