Sadly, mental health stigma is alive and well. Many people continue to believe that mental illness can be cured through willpower, conscious effort, or even prayer. But mental illnesses are every bit as serious and demanding of treatment as physical ailments. If you’re struggling to share your mental illness with someone you love, rest assured that there is nothing to be ashamed of. A little preparation and knowledge can go a long way.
Know That You Don’t Have to Disclose
You are under no obligation to tell anyone about your mental illness. In fact, you don’t have to share that you’re sick at all, let alone that your troubles are psychological in nature. There’s no shame in lying to protect your privacy, particularly from the prying minds of co-workers and intrusive family members. You do not have to explain yourself or your behaviour to anyone.
Choose What You Want to Share
Even when you choose to disclose, it’s up to you to determine what you will and will not share. After all, a person who has diabetes is under no obligation to share his or her insulin schedule, so it similarly makes no sense that a person with depression would have to field questions about his or her use of medication or specific symptoms.
If you’re ready to share your mental illness, but not to fully give up your privacy, it can be helpful to practice in advance what you want to say. Sometimes people can be quite intrusive, and preparing for this intrusiveness helps you become a more effective and zealous advocate for yourself.
Be Prepared With Some Literature
Even if you’re grown accustomed to discussing your mental health with your therapist or other professionals, you might be surprised by how emotional you feel discussing it with someone you love for the first time. This is especially true if the loved one is not completely supportive. For this reason, it can be incredibly helpful to have some literature ready. This way, you don’t have to field intrusive questions about your mental health status, but can still educate your loved one about what life with mental illness means.
Share What You Need
Even if the person with whom you’re sharing has no experience with mental illness or an imperfect reaction to your disclosure, odds are very good that he or she will want to help—particularly when the shock of your initial disclosure wears off. Of course, if the other person doesn’t have a particularly astute understanding of mental health, his or her attempts at helping might fall flat—and even undermine your mental health. Consider preparing with a list of ways your loved one might help. These could include:
- Assistance with household tasks or child care as you work toward recovery.
- Help finding a therapist or other treatment program.
- Assistance sharing your mental health issues with other loved ones.
- Help rebuilding your sense of self-worth.
- Support for understanding that mental illness is not your fault.