Who Should I Tell About My Mental Illness?

I think it´s very well established that struggling with mental health will impact your life in a major way. Most likely, it´ll be hard to hide that struggle from everyone in your life. Well, unless you completely isolate yourself which should neither be an option nor a goal if you´re already struggling! That then begs the question who should an who do I need to tell about my mental illness/struggles? I remember not finding an answer to this question when I first realized that I had some sort of anxiety issue. So here I´ve compiled a list of people who you should and shouldn´t tell about your mental illness from my own experience and my knowledge as a Psychology student.

The Ground Rules


Before I name anyone that you should and shouldn´t tell I think establishing a few ground rules is key. Firstly, mental health is still a very critical topic in society and not everyone might agree that mental disorders are actual illnesses that can affect your life. This makes it pretty hard to open up about this very personal topic in conversations. Also very different from physical injuries you can´t see a mental illness just by looking at a person and, to put it very bluntly, you basically can´t prove objectively that you have mental illness to anyone out there. So, as a very first rule, you should only tell people about your mental illness when you´re comfortable talking about it and comfortable with them knowing. This is all still about how you´re feeling and how it might improve your own life.

However, as a second rule, you should definitely talk to someone if you can! Mental health is such a major part of our lives and recovering from a mental illness takes a lot of work and a lot of support along the way. Having at least one person by your side (whether that´s a close friend, family member or just your therapist) will immensely help you. Who you decide to tell is pretty much your own decision. Just choose someone who you trust and who you know will react positively for you.


Who Should I Tell?


- Your Family

- Your Partner

- Close Friends

- Your Therapist

These are all people that you´ll likely feel very close to and that will see you struggling on a bad day. They are also the ones that can support you and fight along your side! Obviously, it´s important to tell them about your mental illness so that they can understand your behavior and help you when you need help. Also confiding in someone can help a lot and it´s likely that the first person you tell is someone out of these four. As for your family, depending on how close you are with everyone and how big your family is you don´t have to tell every aunt or cousin. Just your immediate family is usually very important! Very obviously, your therapist belongs to that group. Lying to your therapist and suddenly acting as if everything is okay is of no use to use when you´ve already taken the big step and made an appointment!


Who Shouldn´t I Tell?


- Random People

- Your Date

- (Short Term) Clients

- Your Colleagues

These are people that you might see on a regular day but that are usually not very close to you. Most likely, these are also people that you won´t ever see again when you leave the situation so it´s not necessary to disclose your mental illness to them. Additionally, you don´t know if they are struggling with something too. In the worst case scenario you could be a trigger for them! Plus, clients and colleagues that are not affected by your mental illness (aka you´ll be able to work almost normally) could view your work differently after telling them. And as for a date it´s up to you when to tell them but I´d say don´t hit them with it on the first few dates. Rather wait until you´ve gotten to know each other a lot better and know they´ll likely be a part of your life for some time. Of course there is a difference in how open people are with they personal life and it´s definitely still your personal decision who you tell!


Who Should I Maybe Tell?


- Your Boss

- Your Doctors

For both your mental illness could be of relevance and in that case you should always be open about it (e.g. if physical symptoms are caused by your mental illness or it influences your daily work). If it´s not necessarily relevant to them it´s basically up to you if you disclose your mental illness to them. I always like to take into account how much my mental illness affects my interaction with them and if knowing might be helpful for them (does my optician really need to know about my anxiety?). Also you should definitely check the law. It might be a legal requirement wherever you live to tell your boss about a mental illness or in a very different direction, you could be immediately fired for having a mental illness. Based on your own thorough knowledge and research you should make an informed decision that you are completely comfortable with.


As for my personal experience, I´ve told my family and my two closest friend groups as I interact with them a lot and in that way they can support me or maybe understand when I´m behaving in a weird way. I haven´t told my current boss or any professors at uni and neither did I tell my boss and colleagues at my full-time internship last summer. Personally, I don´t feel like my mental health affects my work as most days I still work normally and in a worst case scenario I could still go home and work from there.

I´ve tried to stereotype the three groups mentioned here a bit so that if you have someone that´s not mentioned here you could maybe sort them into one of the groups. Still, as with anything mental health related it´s a very personal decision who you tell about your struggles and you should always feel comfortable opening up about it. Lastly, I really want to stress again how important it is to talk to someone about your struggles. It can really help you as a first step and long term it´s so good to have someone that understands and supports you!

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