Find love on the internet can feel like a recipe for disaster; add a cup of mental illness and it’s a whole other story.
Seeing this, Jim Leftwich knew he could help.
That’s why he created No Longer Lonely in 2004, a dating website for people living with mental health concerns. The goal is simple: to get people talking.
“The people who sign up are all in the same boat coming in,” Leftwich says. “They are stripped from the usual shame associated with mental illness.”
With the awkward pressure in this day and age to be constantly swiping right or left on dating apps, No Longer Lonely works to take the stigma out of mental health and keeps everyone on the same plateau.
According to the site, No Longer Lonely has 54,500 users from 45 countries and has led to more than 37 marriages. The site saw 4,000 more members join since 2017.
On its website, No Longer Lonely calls itself “the ultimate icebreaker:
- Never have to worry again about disclosure of your condition
- No need to hide those pill bottles
- Never again have to explain your erratic work experience
- No more stigma-induced disappointments
- Finding someone who can really understand your struggles and accomplishments”
“If people do not get your mental illness, so what?” Leftwich says. “They weren’t supposed to be in your life anyways.”
This piece of advice informs the site’s unique perspective of dating. The phenomenon of love and sex can be stressful enough, but with mental illness, it can be even more taxing. Realizing that you need someone that understands your condition is paramount.
Eradicating the negative stipulations surrounding mental health is a central goal for Leftwich and No Longer Lonely.
Charlotte gave up on dating before joining No Longer Lonely. She was lost in the difficult emotions associated with online dating. Then, she met her now boyfriend after joining the site. She says “the rest is history.”
“I am very grateful to the site, it helped me gain some sort of confidence and the fact that it’s aimed at people with mental illness was what attracted me,” Charlotte says. “It’s always a difficult conversation in telling someone your diagnosis, some people don’t always understand, whereas this gets that part out of the way.”
Her positive experience is among many budding romances, courtesy of No Longer Lonely.
“They are stripped from the usual shame associated with mental illness” -Jim Leftwich
Michael is a 60-year-old man living in Massachusetts. Post-divorce, he decided to give No Longer Lonely a shot after reaching a point of stability with his mental health.
He says dating isn’t the way it used to be, especially when living with mental illness.
“We don’t go through the whole boy-meets-girl in high school anymore. There are so many other factors, and you cannot treat mental illness as one-size-fits-all,” he says. “No one likes dating sites, but we do it because we have to (use the internet) now to meet someone.”
The site also offers a platform for people to seek friendship and support. Michael claims that he finds it easier to date someone who does not have a mental illness. Dating is already difficult, he says, and adding another person’s mental illness into the mix complicates it further. But he is able to use No Longer Lonely to find people who understand him, to connect in non-romantic ways.
“Just having someone to talk to when ostracized is why I like No Longer Lonely. It is a pen pal platform,” Michael says. “There’s only so much I can take into my life, and a lot more if you’re mentally ill.”
Michael outlines the importance of media portrayal of mental health and its trickling impact on media consumers – and potential romantic partners.
“It’s hard to date when someone doesn’t understand it. Sensationalized media takes a hit on the mental health community as they use the words ‘crazy,’ ‘lazy’ and ‘loser’ to categorize the mentally ill,” Michael says.
This gives the preconceived notion that someone is incapable of a loving relationship and treats all conditions as synonymous. In reality, the spectrum of mental illness is vast not only as a field, but in specific illnesses and in every individual. It is impossible to identify a correct or right set of values when approaching dating.
Navigating love and sex in 2018 has many layers. Enough to make anyone go the so-called notion of “crazy,” let alone those who are already deemed “crazy” by some that do not understand mental illness.
By Victora Gibson Billings