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Mental Health Center

Coming Out About Mental Illness

You've just been diagnosed with a mental illness. Now what? Here's how to tell the people you love.
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Who to Tell About Mental Illness continued...

"Telling people is a very personal decision," says Burland. Mental illness is all around us; in fact, if you entered a room of 50 people, it's likely about eight people in the room would have a mental illness serious enough to require professional help, she says. "The silence helps maintain the ignorance about mental illness." But that doesn't mean that it is beneficial for you to open up indiscriminately about your mental health, to your detriment. "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."

Disclosure doesn't have to be all or nothing, says Lang. Weigh the risks and benefits involved with telling certain people. "Not everyone in the world needs to know if you struggle with diabetes or hypertension or some other illness. The same is true for mental illness," says Lang. You're in charge, and should think about what the payoff is if you share information about your mental health. For example, if you need to miss work to see a psychiatrist, you might want to tell your employer about what you are going through, says Lang.

Practice Makes Perfect

Lang says the next step is to practice telling people about your mental illness, ideally with your therapist if you have one. This way you can anticipate some of the issues, questions, and comments that might arise. Practicing might also help you clarify your own thinking about mental illness as well as help determine who to tell.

"We have imaginations for a reason -- to enable us to anticipate things that might happen and mentally rehearse ways that we might respond to those scenarios," Lang says.

Coping With Bad Reactions to Mental Illness

Lang points to two choices when faced with someone who reacts badly to your disclosure: you can agree to disagree or you can try to educate that person. Read some educational materials with friends and family, and discuss the content. The organization Families for Depression Awareness, offers brochures about how to help someone you love who is struggling with depression, along with other resources available online. The organization is currently developing a monitoring tool to help patients and families monitor their depression treatment.

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