By Caitlin B.
The sense of shame that accompanies mental illness can be suffocating. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, you may wonder what people will think of you if they know the truth. Will they think you’re strange or “crazy”? Will they respect you less? Will they not want to be friends with you anymore?
Unfortunately, for some people with mental illness, this fear is not always unfounded. Many forms of mental illness aren’t well understood by the general population. If you are open with others about your diagnosis, it’s true that you may hear some ignorant or hurtful comments.
But I believe that it can still be worth it to share your story with others. For the last five or six years, I’ve been very open with the people in my life about my struggles with mental illness. Here are a few surprising things I’ve learned:
People may surprise you
There have been times when I was unable to work or keep up with social events because of my mental illness. For a long time, I kept the truth a secret and made up endless excuses for my absences. But I found that keeping my mental illness a secret only made me feel more anxious and ashamed. I wanted to fight that sense of secrecy and shame. So, I started telling friends, family members, and colleagues the truth. I told them that I was suffering from mental illness.
It’s true: I did get a few awkward or insensitive responses. But I was surprised to find that most of the people I confided in were sympathetic and understanding. If you’re afraid that your loved ones won’t be supportive, you might be selling them short! You don’t need to give everyone in your life all the details of your battle with mental illness. But when it comes to the people who love you the most, it might be worthwhile to offer them the chance to support you. They may do a better job of it than you’re expecting.
You’re not alone
When I became open about my struggles with mental illness, I realized for the first time how incredibly common mental illness is. Suffering from mental illness is such an isolating experience. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that there’s something wrong with you. You may begin to believe that everyone else has their lives “together”. You might start to think that nobody else is struggling the way you are. But this simply isn’t true.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 20% of the US population suffers from some form of mental illness each year. It’s very unlikely that you’re the only person you know who is struggling! Your friends and family members might be battling their own mental health problems. They might even be too afraid to speak up because they fear that you will judge them!
If you share your story with others, you may find yourself hearing the two most reassuring words in the English language: Me too.
You can help educate others
Sometimes, you might open yourself up to another person and receive a disappointing response. A loved one might be unsupportive. A friend might make an ignorant joke. No doubt about it: these responses can sting. But they also offer a wonderful opportunity. You now have the chance to help the people around you understand the truth about mental illness.
Most of the unpleasant responses I received in the past weren’t truly malicious. The other person wasn’t trying to be mean. They just didn’t understand what they were talking about. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to help educate the people in my life about mental illness. Over the years, I’ve watched many of them become far more open-minded and better informed about mental health issues. That’s a real privilege.
It’s not easy to confide in others about such a personal issue. I’m no stranger to talking about my journey with mental illness. But I still find my heart racing when I start to bring up the topic with someone I don’t know very well. It can be tough to break the silence.
But speaking openly about our struggles chips away at the shame we feel. It helps to erase the stigma that still surrounds most mental illnesses. In time, we begin to feel more confident and we accept ourselves and each other. And that’s a very worthy goal!
What have you discovered about talking to others about mental illness? Share your experiences in the comments below!