To share your mental illness with people or not to share… that is one of the toughest questions we come up against.
I have always been a very open person - especially about my mental health. But I have always drawn a line between personal and professional relationships and what those relationships mean. I don’t reveal to employers any illness that I have unless necessary. It seems easier to me to build new friendships than to find a new job.
Even my blogging here, includes a last initial. Yes, a person wanting to backtrack from the blog could find me in real life, but a real life employer could not find this blog unless I directed them. The stigma of mental health is alive and well, and while we all wish to take a stand against it - often the repercussions of such an action or the thought of repercussions prevents us from doing so.
Over the March break, I took my Girl Guides camping. We spent our Saturday afternoon working on a badge - the IBPF’s Girl Scout Mental Health Awareness Patch. It was amazing to see how much these girls, aged 9-11, knew about disabilities, but yet how little they knew about mental health. Many of them did not know the difference between a learning disability, or a mental disability and a mental health issue. Others were able to not only name a mental health disorder but also tell the rest of the girls the symptoms and a story of a person they knew with it.
One of the most important moments of the day, was when we were discussing how invisible mental health can be. How we don’t always know when someone has a disorder. I confided in my girls that I had several mental health disorders. I did not tell them the specific disorders, just that I personally had more than one.
Their reaction was amazing. Not one of my girls reacted negatively. One or two looked surprised (the ones who previously knew nothing about mental health or had the wrong idea beforehand). In the following weeks I expected to hear from parents or to have girls possibly drop out, but that hasn’t happened. Not one girl or parent has complained, or expressed concerns, and the girls and I just as close as we were beforehand. I attribute this to us properly educating the girls on mental health that day.
The Guiders who were there that day had slightly different reactions. While they all had an excellent knowledge of mental health going into the weekend, and even helped teach the girls to accept people with mental health - I was surprised at their reactions to my announcement. I could see on one of the ladies’ faces that what she said and what she thought were not exactly in line. And yet, she has not treated me different.
This gives me great hope about our future. That adults who have a bit of a prejudice to mental health will keep it to themselves encourages me that they are teaching their children acceptance. Seeing how my girls reacted, and discussing mental health with them has made me see that while we may still live in a world full of stigma, where we can’t always publicly announce ourselves - we are headed towards a world where the new generation will be filled with love and acceptance. It is up to us to continue to educate the world, especially our children, on what mental health really means and how it affects who we all are.