Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part II: How

disclosing
Credit to flickr.com user Id-iom. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

[ Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV ]

Are you ready to disclose that you have a mental illness? Read on to figure out how to tell your family, friends, and maybe even your employer that you have a disorder.

1. Prepare Your Listener

In order to best disclose that you have a mental illness, you need to prepare your listener. It’s sort of like writing an essay: first you tell him or her what you’re about to say, then you say it, then you summarize what you’ve just said. Preparing your audience is called “process talk.” Try this: “I want to talk to you about something I’m struggling with. It’s taken me a lot of courage to come this far. I hope you’ll support me.”

2. What You’re Dealing With

Next, you want to give concrete examples of what your mental illness is. Explain a situation or two where you’ve struggled, such as not being able to get out of bed for weeks, or going on multiple unplanned spending sprees when you’re manic, if you have bipolar disorder. Cementing your mental illness in your listener’s head will help them understand exactly what you’re facing every day. Consider providing educational materials such as articles or pamphlets about your mental illness. NAMI.org is a great online resource for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

3. Ask for Help

Suggest ways your audience can support you. This can involve asking for more breaks or other accommodations at work or school, or simply asking a friend to understand why you can’t hang out as long. You can also ask your loved ones to help you find a doctor and follow through with an appointment, if you feel that your friend or family member will understand and be helpful. Set boundaries here, too: you know yourself best, and you need to explain whether you need advice or just need your audience to listen.

4. What to Share

You definitely don’t need to share everything. Plan ahead as to what you feel comfortable sharing about your experience. It’s perfectly reasonable to explain that you don’t feel like talking about something in particular. If you do feel there are good parts to your illness, like things you’ve learned, try to share those.

Explaining your illness to a listener is an intense experience, and a personal decision. Practice in front of a mirror or with a licensed professional, like a therapist, who may be able to answer any concerns you have. Keep in mind that you need to prepare your listener, explain your illness, and ask for help.

Tune in next week for part three of this series: “Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part III: If.”