Disclosing a Mental Illness

shhh-its-a-secret

Disclosing you have a mental illness is a very tough decision. There are so many issues associated with telling even your friends and family, much less being open about your illness in a public forum, like social media.  From my viewpoint if we are to actively change the stigma associated with mental illness it is important for those of us who live with mental illness to feel comfortable in disclosing it.

I recently read an acticle about disclosing your mental illness diagnosis on-line. The author was an advocate, but chooses to blog and advocate anonymously. I have no problem with her choice, but I wonder about the impact you can make as an advocate living anonymously? Isn’t it important to demonstrate that many people living with serious mental illness can recover and contribute to society?

When writing my blog I decided it was important for me to feel comfortable being completely open and honest about who I am. I wanted people to know I was not ashamed for having a mental illness. In fact, I have worked very hard to live my life without living in shame for an illness I did not ask for and believe is no different than a physical illness from that standpoint.

But then I started thinking about all the reasons why people could judge me and look at me differently because I live with bipolar disorder. I thought about the stigma associated with the illness and how people may judge my competency without ever talking to me or reading anything I may write. I began to fall into the trap of worrying about things that I cannot control.  I worked through my fears and doubts and moved forward with disclosure in a well thought out way.

For all the reasons why you should never disclose your mental health issues, there are equally a number of reasons why it is a good idea for at least people close to you to know. I was always afraid people would not be my friend if they knew about my condition. The truth is some people didn’t want to be friends with someone who had a mental illness, as if I had some kind of contagious disease. But others seemed to accept it and offer love and support.

After deciding I was going to live my dream and become a Mental Health Advocate, I put a great deal of thought into disclosing my illness. My focus is on raising awareness and creating opportunities to have a dialogue about mental illness so that others may understand. I wanted to jump on the band wagon and help eliminate stigma. I really felt like if people knew I was an Olympic Athlete who was affected by a mental illness they could see that it does not matter what your socio-economic status is or what parade you may have walked in, mental illness can affect anyone. It also helps other people who are suffering with the illness to know someone else who is living with it.

So—for all these reasons I felt like it was a good idea to disclose my illness. I let my Facebook friends know the other day on a status update that I was a Mental Health Advocate, writer and speaker and I lived with Bipolar Disorder. The support I received touched my heart and gave me more strength to keep on walking down the disclosure path.

I can’t tell you what is right for you, but I can say I feel empowered to share my journey. And I am glad I no longer hang my head in fear or shame.

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24 thoughts on “Disclosing a Mental Illness

  1. “From my viewpoint if we are to actively change the stigma associated with mental illness it is important for those of us who live with mental illness to feel comfortable in disclosing it.” I so agree. If we feel the need to hide mental illness, it adds to the stigma, doesn’t it? Great post. I look forward to reading more. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kylie,
      I agree with you if “we feel the need to hide mental illness it adds to the stigma.” I couldn’t agree more, but I am also sensitive to those who feel like they need to keep it a secret. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. I am speechless. That is such a brave move! And turned out to be the smart move, too!
    I’m so happy for your success and the support you had received from your friends!
    I can only imagine what a feeling that is! 🙂

    You have done a tremendous work on mental health issues. 🙂
    I admire you,sincerely. 🙂

    Congratulations! 🙂

    Tina.

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    1. Tina,
      Thank you so much for your comment and support. It is engaging comments that give me the energy and inspiration to continue along my path. I really appreciate your kind words.

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      1. Thank you for giving all of us who are suffering in silence an exceptional example of strength and accomplishment.

        It gives me hope and feeling that something will change in my future, too, in a positive way.

        Thank you so much!

        Tina.

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  3. Amy, what an amazing article. I agree with you a 100% and i would like to be as courageous as you some day. I however am still blogging with my nick name. reasons being i belong to a place where mental illness isnt treated as any other illness. its better here in the usa but back home it is awful. plus, i feel more independent using a nickname. i hope and pray i will become as brave as you and let the world know who i am and why i made choices i did. a great article indeed

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    1. Zephyr,
      I completely understand your decision. It’s not an easy decision to “come out” about living with a mental illness, in fact it did take me a good four years from the time I knew I wanted to do Mental Health Advocacy until I finally started to blog openly in January. I am hoping for a day when we can be open and honest and not have to worry about any backlash. Thanks for the compliment, greatly appreciated.

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  4. Well done Amy. I agree that the only way to remove the stigma of mental illness is to talk about it. So many people have the wrong understanding of particular mental illnesses. And many do not realise the extremely adverse affects it has on our lives. Acknowledging we are affected does not mean that we are defined by our conditions. It just means we are incorporating it into our lives, as is necessary to lead a more normal life, including the daily medications we take and the treatments we pursue. I wish you all the best as a mental health advocate.

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    1. Glenn2point0,
      I like what you said about “acknowledging we are affected does not mean that we are defined by our conditions.” You are so right. This is an example of when more people can understand the various aspects of mental illness they will have a better idea that people are more than their illness. Thank you so much for wishing me well. I really appreciate it.

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  5. You said at the beginning, it’s a personal decision. I blog about it, and speak about it in public through NAMI in Our Own Voice program. However, when I try to have face to face conversations about it, I feel people become uncomfortable about it. Or as it happens so frequently, “you are not mentally ill, you are just creative/manipulative/etc.” It’s difficult to come out, not because we are not ready to have the conversation, but because many people are not ready to hear it.

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    1. Lisbeth,
      That is awesome you are speaking out for NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program. I think you are right that sometimes it depends upon the audience as to whether or not people are ready to hear about mental illness. I don’t think the average person has general knowledge about mental illness. It’s not something you think about until for some reason or another it lands in your life. But my point is more people need to think about it and understand some of the challenges with it. It is a major social problem in the United States and from what I have read around the world. The prevalence is just so high we can’t ignore it anymore…or we can but it’s not going to go away. But I understand what you are saying. Thanks for commenting.

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  6. Amy, you inspire me every time you post. The timing is coming when I will disclose, too. Ideas are percolating for my own post. As Lisbeth said, “coming out” in person is difficult because those in your own circle have many preconceived ideas. This blog, as well as a handful of others give me courage, to know I am beautiful and beloved just as I am.

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    1. Susan,
      I am so humbled by your comment. Thank you. I really look forward to reading your post and finding out about how you chose to disclose. I have to say I have been so surprised by how much support people have given me. Today, my story from “Olympic Athlete to Bipolar Patient, Who am I really?” received nearly 100 likes on Facebook..shares..and comments. People were telling me how proud they are of me. I was stunned. So, I would say “Go for it!” You will probably be pleasantly surprised at how many people who will be very positive. I can’t wait to find out how it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Its kind of funny, because when I set up this account I used a nickname, but when I came back to it to actually use it, I set the blog address with my real name. I feel in the past using my nickname has been a barrier for the people who know me in real life to read or write what I wrote, so I changed it to my name with a number after it.. I’ve had to be really careful in the past because I had a FB account with some of my Mom’s co-workers on it and she thought it would be a major FUBAR situation if anyone found out that I had schizophrenia and was volunteering at the school. I’ve gone through background checks like everyone else and I’ve never been violent, but she felt at the very least I would be asked not to come back and she might get fired. I can be a little more free now in a way I’ve never been before, because my mom is retiring after the next school year..

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    1. I am so glad you can feel more “free” this year. I wish it were different, but some people do have preconceived notions about certain mental illnesses. I happen to have one – bipolar disorder — and you have the other — schizophrenia. The best thing about disclosing is being free and feeling empowered to just be yourself. Because being exactly who you are is just Okay!

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  8. Sherry,
    Everyone has to decide what is right for them when it comes to disclosing a mental illness. Just because you don’t feel comfortable talking about in the town you live in, doesn’t mean you don’t feel confident discussing it on a blog…(you are commenting with your real name). But I do understand people can sometimes treat you differently if they find out you have a mental illness. I am just at the point where I really don’t care what people think about me. Only the people who matter to me are who I care about.

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  9. This is wonderful – *hugs* Your blog is really inspirational! I just recently “came out of the mental illness closet” with a blog to ALL my friends, family as being bipolar via FB and social media and was overwhelmed by the positive response. I wish I had read all of your posts for courage beforehand!! I hope to one day have the sort of platform and influence that you have, but right now, just knowing that I’m living a more honest and open life is SO FREEING!! Thank you for this post!

    Keep up the great writing!
    – Meg

    Like

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