Coming out about mental illness

Maybe it’s something you’ve known about for many years, but been too scared to share. Or you’ve received a recent diagnosis; a name for all the stuff that is dominating your life.

Sometimes it’s easy, like someone has joined the dots on a picture of you.  Sometimes, putting its’ name and your name together feels foreign, even wrong. You’ll need time to make sense of it; and to work out who, and if (see here), you want to tell.

Whatever you’re facing, don’t panic.  Here’s some pointers for that initial conversation…

  1. remember, this is privileged information (in every sense). It’s about the inside of your head and as such, it’s personal and important and a privilege to those you trust to share it with. You are not being ‘weird’ or a ‘burden…’ you’re allowing people to see and understand a part of yourself. So don’t apologise or feel bad for doing so. If a friend did the same with you; you’d be honoured, and you’d hold their words like a gift. This is no different.
  2. because it’s privileged, choose your audience with care.  Begin with a small circle of friends who you know and trust.  Not the aunt who says ‘pull yourself together’ or the ‘friend’ who always puts you down.  The people who really know you and the ones who are there when it matters.  However,
  3. be prepared for a range of reactions.  We’re all different; and the things that make your loved ones so unique, (offbeat sense of humour, straight-talking, propensity to hug, problem-solver…) also mean that they may say or do things you don’t expect.  Let them know if this is confidential; but be prepared for it to go a bit further than you may like; and don’t panic if it does.
  4. pick a good time when you won’t be disturbed and will have your friend’s undistracted attention. If it helps you, write down what you want to say — or even offer a link to somewhere that gives more information. You don’t have to tell them everything! Ask them what they already know about the condition; and give them information in chunks at a time to let it sink in.  If it’s difficult for you to talk about it at length, say so – and suggest ways they can help, (even if this means not talking about it all the time!)
  5. remember, no-one gets it perfect first time round; so if they seem clumsy or shocked, it’s okay.   Whatever their response, it’s not a rejection of you. But to make sure you’re not easily derailed…
  6. try to come to terms with it yourself first.  Not necessarily feeling completely and utterly at peace with yourself, (surely a feature of the new creation?) or understanding every nuance and detail of your diagnosis.  But taking time to process what it might mean and beginning to own it for yourself, so that other people’s reactions don’t knock you over.
  7. provide extra information — articles, websites, books, charities, testimonies that capture what you’re experiencing.  This might be useful for you if you are struggling to put words to your feelings; and it will certainly help them.
  8. don’t be defined by it (or allow others to define you).  Your diagnosis might be really, really significant — perhaps even a vital part of who you are.  It may help others to interpret, understand and support you.  But it is not ‘you’.
  9. but try not to underplay it either! If it’s important, then say so.  Allow others to reflect back to you… but be discerning about advice. If a friend with no medical training told you they could manage your diabetes, you’d be right to pause before taking their advice. So do the same here…
  10. don’t expect rescue.  Hopefully, sharing this information will help you and your friends — a great deal! But they’re not a fix; and they’re not a Saviour either.
  11. recognise that having these sorts of conversations can be difficult – but it’s worthwhile.  You’ve done something brave and important; so, whatever the response, well done! Remember, it will get easier…and this is part of getting the support that will help you through.


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1 thought on “Coming out about mental illness

  1. My favourite thing about this post – is that this is authentically YOU x

    As in, it’s not just things you’re saying, but what you lovingly put in action as well :-) Thank you for holding things so tenderly each & every time I mumble some MH thing (yes, ‘privilege in every sense’ is spot on), for reminding me I’m more than this socially-anxious mess (“loved”, “precious and unique”, “when God made you He said ‘VERY GOOD’ ” – just quoting through our conversations here ;-)), and definitely not underplaying it – esp when I called it “MH nonsense” & you firmly, but gently said that MH struggles aren’t “nonsense”.

    I feel like I say this way too much (not a bad thing – I like it this way I think!), but thanks also for never suggesting “easy answers” (of human wisdom) but instead responding with love, prayer, & reminders of gospel truth <3

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