***The opinions below are mine personally and the experiences that I have had, everybody’s own situation is different***
Originally, when I started writing my blog I created a pseudonym, Bipolar Betty. There are folks I have told about my mental illness and some I have kept my illness secret. Unfortunately, the latter I feel is the easiest route. It is risky, to tell folks who will judge you from that day on. If you cannot see it, it is not there. Obviously, the choice is personal and the decision to tell has to be an individual one. However, the question is whom should we tell and whom not? In what situations should we tell? Why should we tell and what will happen if we tell? Is there a right or wrong way to tell?
For those who do not know my name, I was able to call myself Bipolar Betty, but I was also concerned folks who do know me would find out as well. Feeling that much of society out there is naïve, judgmental, ignorant, and stigmatizes mental illness and taking a leap of faith, with the hope of not losing individuals I know to the majority of society!
The problem regarding revealing is there’s not exactly a right or wrong answer, I feel for me it usually falls in between the two during which I hold my breath waiting either for an understanding reaction, or a “oh” response. I’ve found in the past that folks, who know about my mental illness, are closer to judge when I am moody or upset, I see their wheels turning “it’s just her bipolar acting up”!
While talking about the diagnosis is an opportunity to educate others, is the education worth the cost of potential judgment? Additionally would it benefit you by telling someone? What is the circumstances for telling, the reason, and is it enough of one to tell? If you do not experience any personal or professional benefits, why tell at all? Luckily, some of my close friends I have known for a while have supported me for 16 years upon being diagnosed with my mental illness. It is the relationships in my life that are not lengthy that concern me. Some folks are not as lucky. However, because mental illness is not uncommon, depending on the diagnosis, you may be surprised to find some of your friends have the ability to relate.
I was very fortunate when my parents found out; they were standing right by my side. They also signed up for the NAMI Family-to-Family group, which met for 6 weeks to educate family members about mental illness.
When it comes to physicians, if it is not essential to disclose my psychiatric diagnosis, or list my psychotropic medications, I usually avoid it. Surprisingly, I feel, even in today’s society healthcare professionals today are judgmental as well.
The World Health Organization, which is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system, predicts that by 2020, mental illness will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide, after heart disease. With that said, will revealing become easier, or remain static. Unfortunately, 2020 is six years away.
So what are the pros and cons, about disclosing your mental illness? I have run into many cons. Prejudice and stigma about any mental illness is still very prominent in society. Disclosure to coworkers and employer’s can be harmful, I have experienced this. Office gossip starts, then next thing you know all the employees know you have a mental illness. At this point, every move feels analyzed. Questions such as, “is she late because her medications make her tired”? She seems withdrawn, “is she depressed?”, and the comments and questions continue.
Some of the instances were unavoidable, and I really had no choice. For example, when I was employed, there were times that I had to take a leave of absence because I required hospitalization. Additionally, there have been times when prescribed new medication, hindered job performance, due to sedative side effects. Alternatively, what about when you need to file paperwork through human resources, that too is a difficult situation for avoiding disclosure.
While discrimination is illegal, it is hard to prove. I have found chances for a promotion can be hampered. You cannot “un-tell” a secret. While each and everyone’s situation is different, it is important to sit down and write a list of pros and cons for revealing your mental illness to others, and to assess the type of relationship you have with the person you may or may not tell. This is a personal decision, which has to be made alone.