When is it a good idea to talk to someone about your illness? How do you begin the conversation?
A few important questions to ask yourself:
- Who, if anyone, needs to know your story?
- When is it a good idea to reveal details about your situation? When does it make sense to keep information to yourself?
- What would leave you feeling relieved to share with another person?
- How much information is too much to share? Is there anything you know you don’t want to share?
- How do you go about telling someone your story?
There are no easy or “right” answers to these questions. Each situation may require a different strategy. The information that follows aims to help you give careful and thoughtful consideration to when and how you might discuss your illness with someone. You can also complete the Evaluating When to Discuss Your Illness with Others Tool.
Talking with your healthcare provider
When it comes to discussing your illness with a healthcare provider, the issue is not whether to share, but how to share effectively. It is important that your provider understand exactly what you are experiencing. Your goal should be to share honestly and clearly each time you meet with them. Learn about how to come prepared to your appointments here.
Talking with others
Deciding when, how, and with whom you will share information about an illness and treatment is a choice that everyone must make, whether it is a physical illness like cancer or a mental health condition.
While it’s true that telling no one is the ultimate protection from the discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness, 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:
- You are the keeper of your own information. Decide whether and how much to share based on whether the person will understand what you may be experiencing, whether they have the potential to offer you support, and whether you believe that telling the person will make you feel better.
- 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. 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 significant.
- Consider the possibility of “anonymous” disclosure. You may look for support from others with similar problems within forums that protect privacy, like the internet or anonymous support organizations. Just remember: a lot of the information on the internet is inaccurate. Ask your healthcare provider for a trusted source.
Pros and cons to consider when determining whether or not to share your personal information with someone:
- 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.
- Others may be able to help you problem-solve how to improve your situation.
- Those you share with may share similar stories, confirming that you are not alone in your feelings or experiences.
- Sharing may be able to help someone else in need.
- Your story can help remove the negative stereotypes and shame associated with depression and related illnesses.
- Some people may not understand.
- After you have shared, you may worry about what others think of you. You may be concerned about being treated differently.