What can you do with your mental health information?
There are 5 ways we can keep our mental health information in relation to others. Only you can decide which is the best thing for you at this point in time. You can decide by doing a pros and cons list, or by discussing with some trusted friends or family members or your treating mental health professional.
1. Social Avoidance
Social avoidance may be a useful strategy during times when symptoms are intense and the person needs a respite from the demands of society. But, avoiding the normal world altogether will likely prevent most people from achieving the breadth of their life goals.
This is a more moderate response of social avoidance – to steer clear of certain groups of people—those who stigmatize—rather than steering clear of your community as a whole. This requires you to be alert for people who would be intolerant of people with psychiatric disability.
There is no need to avoid work or community situations in order to keep your experiences with mental illness private. Many people choose to enter these worlds, but to not share their experiences with others.
There are two parts to keeping your experiences with mental illness a secret. The first part seems easy: don’t tell anyone. Don’t share your history of hospitalizations, doctors, medications, and symptoms. The second part is may need to fill in some gaps in your past and current experience. This is not an encouragement to lie but to In other words, refocusing your story on information that will not lead to stigmatizing responses from others.
3. Selective Disclosure
When you keep your experiences with mental illness a secret, you are not able to avail the support and resources of others. To rectify this problem, some people take a chance and disclose their mental illness to selected co-workers or neighbors. Selective disclosure means that there is a group of people with whom you are sharing your mental illness experiences, AND a group from whom you are keeping the information secret.
4. Indiscriminate Disclosure
If you choose indiscriminant disclosure, you must still identify people to seek out and with whom to actively share your experience. But the difference is that you no longer worry about hiding your history from the world.
Reframe your experience. Most people have to change the way they view their mental illness if they are to opt for indiscriminant disclosure. This may mean adjusting a lifelong attitude about the place of mental illness in society. In the past, you might have viewed mental illness as something that is disparaged by others and, therefore, should be kept secret. The desire to keep mental illness a secret needs to change radically for you to partake in indiscriminant disclosure.
This redefinition may require accepting mental illness as part of who you are.
Mental illness is not a bad part of you that needs to be rejected.
Can you handle the consequences of disclosure right now? Many more people are going to find out and react negatively to your mental illness. Hence, you need to be able to cope with the disapproval that results from bigoted reactions.
5. Broadcast your experience
Broadcasting your experience means educating people about mental illness. The goal is to actively let people know your experience with mental illness. This kind of disclosure is much more than dropping your guard and throwing away any notion of secrecy. Your goal is to seek out many people with whom to share your past history and current experiences with mental illness.
Broadcasting your experience has the same benefits as indiscriminant disclosure: You no longer need to worry about keeping a secret. You will also find people who may provide understanding, support, and assistance to you because of your message. However, people who choose to broadcast their experience seem to derive an additional benefit. Namely, it seems to foster their sense of power over the experience of mental illness and stigma. No longer must they cower because of feelings of inferiority.
Be prepared for anger and distancing. Broadcasting your experiences will yield hostile responses, just like indiscriminate disclosure, and more. Citizens who hear someone’s story about mental illness frequently battle the message and the messenger.
Like the person choosing indiscriminate disclosure, broadcasters may get hostile reactions to their messages.
Who do you tell?
Who is a good person to disclose to?
Selective disclosure does not mean sharing your experiences with everyone. You need to identify people who are likely to respond positively to your message. There are several reasons why you might pick a specific person for disclose to.
The functional relationship represents an association with some person in which your mental illness serves as a conduit for establishing that relationship. Your relationship with a psychiatrist is an example of this type of relationship. He or she sees you in order to diagnose and treat your mental illness. Thus, addressing the mental illness is the grounds for developing the relationship. The same type of relationship might be true with your family doctor, a minister, a teacher, or even your supervisor at work.
You might consider disclosing to a person with whom you have developed a supportive relationship. You can be fairly certain that the friendly and kind person will support you when they discover that you live with a mental illness. You may identify supportive people by their pleasantness, concern for others, and open-mindedness. When someone takes an interest in you and seems to want to know more about you other than your name and hometown, they may be a good candidate for a supportive relationship.
Then there are others who empathize with you. Often they’ve lived closely to people with similar experiences, or have a mental illness themselves. “I know what the humiliation is,” they might say. “I’ve had my depressions, too.” Look for people who seem to be willing to listen, to understand, and who have a look of recognition when they hear talk about mental illness.
Mental illness can be a very lonely disease. It helps many people with mental illness to seek out and develop friendships with other people who have similar disorders.
What should you disclose?
A decision to disclose to someone does not mean you must disclose everything. Choosing to disclose does not mean giving up all your privacy. Rather, you are sharing information to break the secret, get some help, and enjoy some interpersonal closeness. Hence, just as you decided to whom you might disclose, so you must decide what you will and will not share. You need to determine which experiences in your past you wish to discuss, and what current experiences you want to keep private.
The purpose of disclosing your past is to give people some knowledge of your problems with mental illness. The goal is not confession. You don’t need to share things you are embarrassed about. Specific issues you may wish to share include: your diagnosis, symptoms, history of hospitalizations, and medications.
The purpose of sharing current experiences with mental illness is twofold.
- First, you may want to impress upon the person that the serious mental illness of long ago has much less impact on you now; and you want to let the person know that you can control small problems that occur in your life. The message here is that mental illness may not go away entirely. However, you are still able to work, raise a family, and be a responsible member of society.
- The second goal of sharing current experiences is to alert the person that you may have troubles in the future and need some assistance.
In Part 3, we will talk about how to talk about your mental health.
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