Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be a life-changing event that is frightening, and it has the potential to make you feel alone. It can be helpful to talk about your diagnosis with people that you trust and care about, but it might be a topic that is very difficult to for one to approach. There are many areas to ponder about and here are some that you need to think properly about before talking to someone about your mental health diagnosis.
**This article is not written by a professional, and must not be taken as professional advice**
When should I tell someone about it?
The decision is a very personal choice and under no circumstances should you feel obliged or forced to tell someone about your diagnosis when you are not ready to, as it might only reinforce negative feelings and worsen your mental health.
It is recommended that you approach this topic only when you feel that you are emotionally comfortable enough to handle the possibility of someone reacting badly to the news. You should also make sure that you have a close-knit group of people that you can trust and fall back on, should you need to talk to someone about the former mentioned bad reaction. This group of people can consist of friends and family members that are already aware of your diagnosis and even your therapist!
Why should I tell someone about it?
There are a few common reasons as to why one might decide to open up about their mental health illness:
- You want to be honest with the person you are involved in a romantic relationship with/ going into a romantic relationship with and want them to support you through this journey.
- You want to receive emotional and mental support. It can be very helpful to receive texts of encouragement or to know that you have someone to call if you ever need help. It has been shown through the buffering hypothesis that the presence of a social support system greatly helps to reduce stress.
- You want to seek more concrete forms of support, such as physical accompaniment to doctor appointments.
- You need to explain your mental health state to seek understanding from your social circle or to receive special accommodations in certain environments, eg:
- telling a boss or teacher to explain your days off at work or school.
- telling a friend so that they can understand why you’ve been not been turning up at gatherings and turning down invitations to hang out.
- telling a family member who has expressed concern at your change in behaviour.
How do I begin the conversation? / What do I talk about?
- One way to prime the conversation is to set the tone by letting the other person know that you are going to dive into a sensitive and emotionally heavy topic. For example:
“I would like to talk to you about something going on in my life. I feel uncomfortable talking about it and I’m aware that you might feel different after this conversation. However, I really want to talk to someone about it so I hope you can listen to me and try to understand where I am coming from.”
- If the other party seems to be confused about what is going on, you can provide recounts of what you have gone through. For example:
“I’ve noticed that I would start crying for no reason on a daily basis. I have also lost all interest in activities that I used to be passionate about. Thus, I visited a doctor who diagnosed me with depression.”
- Another important point is that you should not be afraid to tell them what you need from them.
“I would really appreciate it if you could find time to accompany me to my doctor’s appointments. That would make me feel much better.”
What are some concerns that I should think about?
One thing that many people forget to think about is finding a right setting where you feel comfortable to carry out the conversation. Some may prefer a quiet and private place such as a bench in a tranquil park with little human traffic, but for others, they might feel more at ease in a slightly noisy restaurant where they can have a light-hearted chat over a meal.
Be prepared to answer questions, and be aware that some of these questions might be insensitive, triggering, or upsetting. Even with increasing attempts at educating the public about mental health illnesses through campaigns and student projects, it will surprise you that some people still have such major misconceptions about mental health illnesses. You can put together a list of commonly asked questions found on the internet, and come up with your own answers and thoughts to them.
Be prepared to give them space. Your diagnosis and experiences may come as a shock to the people around you. For example, for those who usually put on a bubbly front every day, your diagnosis of depression may come across as a bolt out of the blue. Unfortunately, some people react to the shocking news by running away as they might need time to process what you have just told them. That being said:
Be prepared that they may exit your life – either immediately or gradually. Unfortunately, stigma revolving mental illnesses still exist and there are people who may be firm in their ignorant beliefs. You may get hurt when others tout misconceptions and make a decision to leave your life based on these formerly mentioned misconceptions. Of course, you can try to educate them and change their misconceptions. Some methods to do this include handing them leaflets and pamphlets that you may get from your local mental health clinic, linking them to mental health blogs or even recommending them books and movies that accurately depict the realities of mental illnesses. However, there is no guarantee that these methods will work. As such, it is important to examine one’s own emotional stability before telling anyone about your mental health illness as you need to be certain that you can handle the possibility that you might lose that person.
It is definitely not easy to tell someone about your mental health diagnosis and it could potentially be an emotionally stressful and upsetting situation. However, support from friends and family can be extremely helpful in your recovery journey and help you to manage your condition better. I used to think that opening up about your own mental health illness reflects upon myself as being weak, but as Criss Jami says perfectly:
“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”