Disclosure or “Coming Out” about a Mental Illness

Privacy is a big issue nowadays, with everything we post online being available to the whole world forever, and stigma about mental illness is a painful reality for everyone.  Even so, many people think carefully about disclosing some information about their diagnosis to others, both on- and off-line.

Should you “come out” about a mental illness diagnosis?  What will happen?  Will people stop liking you?  Will you get support, or more negative input?

Moodsurfing wants to highlight the work of Katherine Ponte and her website For Like Minds.  Writing in BPHope, Ms. Ponte lists several important “pros” to letting family, friends, and co-workers know about a mental illness diagnosis.  Ms. Ponte is very encouraging about disclosing this part of one’s life story, but she does comment on a few possible “cons” as well as giving a list of who you might take into confidence and how.

Her own plan seems a bit wholesale: she posted about her journey on her Facebook page.  Others suggest a more gradual approach, with only a few trusted friends brought on board at first.  Some ask their parents or spouse to take on the task of disclosing selected information, especially to relatives.  Ponte notes an advantage to this that may not be obvious: her mother also got better support from her own network.  Previously, Ms. Ponte writes, she had “forbidden” her parents to tell anyone, but after beginning the disclosure process she observed that it was helpful for her mother to be able to open up and be understood by others who could share their own experiences as caregivers to the mentally ill.

Moodsurfing has explored the issues regarding building a support network and communicating with those who may not be very well informed about bipolar and depression.  In general, we recommend taking a low-key, factual approach, focusing on helping the other person understand the issues rather than making a bid for immediate emotional validation.

Employment can be a complex area, where, in spite of legal protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act, negative consequences are a real possibility.  Make sure you have all the information you need and specific requests for help (not an unspecified need for “understanding”).

Spouses and romantic partners also have their own needs, that you have to keep in mind, even while letting them know about your own needs.  Dr. Cannon Thomas, of UCSF has some comments particularly for an early developing romantic relationship that may be helpful.

Finally, in addition to Katherine Ponte’s website, linked above, we have found a few other resources for disclosure and reduction of stigma (see below).  We hope these will be useful to you, and, as always, we are anxious to hear of any other resources recommended by readers, either here or on our Facebook page.

Demi Lovato encourages us to Be Vocal

Coming Out Proud