Craig JacksonBy Craig Jackson, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology.

A dating website (NoLongerLonely.com) is dedicated solely for users with experiences of mental health problems.

While NoLongerLonely.com is no doubt sincere in offering a service to a community that is well aware of the problems and difficulties of functioning and living with mental illness, there is no harm in offering some critical thoughts about the service. NLL requires all users to have to some experience of their own mental health problems, and this sets it apart from the majority of specialist community dating sites. Indeed, their mission statement (I did not know that they were still around) claims;

“Membership is reserved solely for those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, + schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, personality disorder, post-traumatic disorder, or disassociative disorder, or eating disorder. If you ARE unsure if you qualify please contact the webmaster. I strongly encourage anyone considering membership to first consult with their psychiatrist and/or social worker”.

The plus points of this exclusivity include that it should avoid those awkward dating dilemmas that those with mental health problems may have, such as disclosure of their condition to another person, the hiding of medication, or the need to explain any erratic behaviours (their words not mine). Although there are similar dating sites available for people with disabilities and other physical health problems, many do not insist on users having disabilities or health problems as necessary inclusive criteria, but merely that they be aware and sensitive. Of interest to me as a psychologist, is that users of NLL will therefore define themselves by their mental health issues – rather than being perhaps a talented dancer, good listener, or a great painter. Users are defining themselves by their health problems and limitations. In a way this site therefore focuses on users’ difficulties and challenges rather than achievements, accomplishments and personality.

Although the owners of NLL go to some lengths to make sure users keep themselves safe and free from scams, as most dating websites do, there could be the added problem of the curious and the nosey – visitors who may fake having mental health problems in order to get access to users who may have additional vulnerabilities. I can join for free, with no vetting process, and I am able to browse, and contact other users for free should I wish to do so. Some users of dating sites could be argued to be vulnerable in a way, by the very nature of them looking for love online, and this site may conveniently provide a source of doubly-vulnerable people for predators to access. A ready-made “offending space” as the criminologists would no doubt call it.

Should relationships borne from this dating site be successful and result in families and children, will there be considerations implications for the wellbeing of any offspring? If mental health vulnerabilities, or weaknesses as evolutionary theorists would call them, are inherited from parents (either biologically, socially, environmentally or through a mixture of all three) then from a functional perspective, some would argue that this exclusivity therefore represents a doomed extreme species selection, albeit aided with a little nudge by the internet.

Conversely there is no guarantee of course that having experience of mental health issues makes people become better partners or more understanding of others’ experiences and frailties – dating websites can often be argued to be a biased sample of individuals who just may not be any good at being in relationships anyway – whether they have mental health problems or not.

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Craig Jackson

Craig Jackson

Head of Psychology Division at Birmingham City University