How To Open Up To Others About Your Mental Illness

How To Open Up To Others About Your Mental Illness

I think one of the most challenging things in dealing with a mental illness is telling others about it -- and hoping they don't judge you.

Sure, it's not like you have to tell everyone about it. And some people go their whole lives without telling anyone they suffer from mental illness. But, when you're around someone long enough, they are bound to see your mental illness shine through. And, for me personally, trying to hide it only makes it worse.

Joyce Burland, PhD, of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), told WebMD, "The silence helps maintain the ignorance about mental illness. ... As an advocate I could say that it would be wonderful if everybody came out. But it is a very subjective decision and you have to consider the consequences."

While mental illness is becoming more accepted, still, people react differently if they see you have an asthma attack or go into diabetic shock than when they see you demonstrate an obsessive compulsive behavior, have a panic attack, or any other symptoms related to mental illness. Many times people still don't view the latter as an illness that you can't control.

Here are some tips from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on how to tell someone about your mental illness:

  • Initially, it's good to tell someone who you trust. 
  • Educate yourself about your mental illness so you can be ready for questions and concerns from those you tell. 
  • Practice disclosure with a trained professional. This way you can discuss any worries you may have. 
  • If you're telling an employer, wait until a reasonable accommodation is necessary. The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids companies from firing people with mental health conditions as long as they can do the “essential functions” of the job as determined by the employer.
  • Remember, you are in control of what you disclose. Never let someone pressure you into disclosing more than you're willing.

I know it can be scary and you may be worried that you will be judged if you disclose your mental illness. But your mental illness is a part of your life -- something you have to deal with on a daily basis. And if someone can't accept you for this, then it's their loss and you don't need that kind of person in your life. Always remember that, no matter how others may react, never start judging yourself. Your mental illness is just that -- an illness that you didn't choose.

Monica Drake | Contributor


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