Deciding when, how and with whom you will share information about your illness and treatment is a choice that each individual must make after weighing the pros and cons. Keep in mind that people must make these same choices when deciding whether or not to share information about physical diagnoses as well.
The ultimate protection from the discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness is to tell no one. Secrecy is certainly a commonly-employed strategy. However, this protection comes at a cost: with secrecy comes withdrawal and isolation. Living in a “conspiracy of silence” can have harmful effects of its own. Many find that appropriate sharing with close family and friends is “liberating,”, and also helps fight stigma.
Although there are no right or wrong answers, there are guidelines you can follow when evaluating each situation. Following these steps will help you feel more confident in your decisions.
As you begin to think through the issue of talking with others, here are few rules of thumb :
- You are the keeper of your own information. Remember that whether, how much and with whom you share is your choice. Also, know that choosing not to share with someone does not make you dishonest or bad. Rather, you are making your decision based on whether the person will understand what you may be experiencing, whether he/she has the potential to offer you support, and whether you believe that telling the person will make you feel better.
- Share completely with a healthcare provider. As stated earlier, emotional problems such as depression are not always evident to healthcare professionals focused on physical ailments. It’s really up to you to raise the issue and begin the conversation. Continuing to be fully open is equally important. Details about your symptoms, the side effects of treatment and other concerns are of the utmost significance to your provider.
- Identify your trusted confidants. Depression can make you feel like the loneliest person in the world. But when you’re able to share with others, you realize you’re not alone. Knowing that there are people you can rely on can be enormously helpful. Make a mental list of people you’re comfortable turning to when you need to talk. This list might include family members, friends or support group members. Remember: quality is more important than quantity– even one confidant is a great asset.
- Consider the possibility of “anonymous” disclosure. Individuals often seek input and even support from others with similar problems within forums that protect privacy, like the internet or anonymous support organizations. But remember: much of the information on the internet is anecdotal and inaccurate. Ask your healthcare provider for an accurate source.
- There is no need to “wear this on your sleeve.” Sometimes we need to know that it is better to change the topic and talk about other shared areas of interest.
Tips for evaluating each situation
There are general pros and cons to consider when determining whether or not to share your personal information with another person:
- You no longer have to worry about keeping the secret.
- You can be more open in your day-to-day life.
- Those you share with may express support, appreciating your honesty.
- Those you share with may share similar stories, confirming that you are not alone in your feelings or experiences.
- Your disclosure may be able to help someone else in need.
- Your story can help diminish the negative stereotypes and shame associated with depression and related illnesses.
- Some may not understand.
- After you have shared, you may worry about what others think of you. You may be concerned about being treated differently by those with whom you have shared.
- Family members may not be ready for you to share. You may wish to discuss how sharing or not sharing might impact them.