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Telling People about your Mental Illness
By: Beth McHugh 2008
Whether we suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, an eating disorder or one of the many anxiety disorders, there comes a time when decisions have to be made as to who and what to tell about your condition.
Sometimes that decision is taken away from us, as when we suffer a psychotic episode, a suicide attempt, or our eating disorder has become obvious even to the most casual observer.
I am often asked by clients how they should go about telling people about their illness and who they should tell. It can be quite a challenge to tell others about the emotional pain you are experiencing. Sufferers often “look” normal, yet suffer terribly, often on a daily basis. Yet it is the absence of obvious physical cues that cause others to minimize or even disbelieve the full extent of the pain and misery that accompanies all forms of mental illness.
For this reason, it can be prudent to decide carefully about who you tell about your disorder. Despite numerous campaigns to raise awareness of mental illness in the community, there are always going to be people in your life who cannot and will not understand your dilemma. These people are also capable of inflicting further pain and suffering, not to mention create shame and stigmatization in the sufferer.
The following is a guideline to help you make the task of telling others about your illness easier and more empowering for you:
It is important for your own mental health to share your condition with others. Many will be willing to assist you. Others will walk out of your life once they are aware of the true nature and chronicity of your illness. Expect this. Expect to be hurt by some of your friends and acquaintances. It was a long time ago when the quote “a friend in need is a friend indeed” came into being and human nature has not changed in the interim. But do not let this aspect of some people’s characters put you off telling significant others.
Telling people, regardless of their reactions, can be a truly empowering
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