Coming Out Proud is the name of a program that was developed Patrick Corrigan to help people with a “mental illness” think through the risks and benefits of disclosure, and come up with a strategy that not only fits their values but avoids some of the many pitfalls of greater honesty about bipolar or depression.
The full program takes you through a process of self exploration that will help you answer questions such as…
- Who should I tell that I have a mental illness?
- To what degree should I disclose?
- Should I tell the whole ugly story or just bits?
- How quickly should I disclose, if at all?
- How do I deal with inquiring people wanting to know more about me?
- How will disclosure affect my career?
Risks and Benefits
The risks of disclosure might seem to many of us easier to understand than the benefits. So let’s start by thinking a bit about the potential benefits. Secrets, and the effort to keep secrets, have measurable negative effects on health and psychology. People who “take the risk” of disclosure are likely to feel less depression and anxiety, and may even have a lower risk of chronic health problems…. assuming the disclosure does not lead to a new set of challenges.
A colleague of mine, had this to say about vulnerability and disclosure…
“In the treatment of anxiety, I often ask patients to consider sharing their anxious feelings with the people in their lives. (You may not be surprised to hear that this often elicits a “Hell no!” look from patients!) For example, when someone is struggling with social anxiety, I might encourage them to say something like this to a colleague, “I get pretty nervous at the team meetings and that’s why I don’t speak up.” This is often the socially anxious person’s greatest fear! They spend so much time and energy trying to conceal their anxiety that confessing it seems like it will make things much worse.
If they are willing to take that step—if they are willing to be vulnerable in that way, to expose their struggle—what they often find is that the results are totally opposite of what they predict. Before this kind of interaction, they predict they will be shamed, made fun of, ostracized, and their anxiety will go through the roof. Knowing that we can’t predict the future, we must acknowledge that those are possibilities. However, can you guess what happens 90% of the time? Most of the time they get reassuring feedback, an offer to help, and a reduction in nerves. Being transparent or vulnerable with your feelings is a potent strategy in managing anxiety.”
But what about the risks?
For personal disclosures, the risks include changes in the relationship, perhaps even loss of the relationship. At work, the risks can be greater, although several state and federal laws, in the United States, at least, protect you against overt discrimination.
Secrets are Universal
All of us have to deal with the question of what to disclose, or not, to others. This quote from the Coming Out Proud manual will give you a feeling for the language and humanism that underlies this process…
“Deciding to disclose experiences with mental illness is not an easy decision. Sometimes, this choice is made harder by the guilt you may feel about having a secret: “I must be a bad person to have to hide part of who I am.” This kind of guilt doesn’t make your decision-making process any easier. In fact, you may feel like a leper because you have these secrets. However, you can be consoled by the knowledge that most adults must deal/cope with secrets. Examples of these include:
- People who struggle with coming out of the closet: gays and lesbians, people with AIDS, and people from some non-traditional religious denominations.”
Smart, L.; Wegner, DM. In The social psychology of stigma. New York: Guilford Press; 2000. The hidden costs of hidden stigma.