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Should You Disclose that You Have a Mental Illness?

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

Individuals living with mental illness can have a hard time accepting their diagnoses, and telling others about mental illness can be just as difficult. However, some individuals are choosing to break the silence about their suffering.

A new series in the New York Times features different individuals who are “functioning well despite severe mental illness,” according to a New York Times health blog post.

“Across the country, in small towns and cities, hundreds of people with severe mental illness live what appear to be normal, successful lives,” the blog post continued. “They work in demanding jobs. They juggle responsibilities. They pay the bills, study, fall in love, raise families — all while knowing that their secret, if ever exposed, would mean almost certain ruin.”

The first article in the series focuses on Marsha Linehan, a woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She is a therapist and researcher as well. She developed dialectical behavior therapy, where patients learn to accept themselves but also work on changing certain behaviors. The article explores the concept that a diagnosis of a mental disorder does not mean there is no hope and that one must live a life as a victim. People with mental illness can live rewarding, happy and successful lives with the right help.

The blog and article both beg the question: Should all people living with mental illness come out in some way? Should they be selective in who they tell, or should they be willing to tell everyone (like through a newspaper article)?

Linehan appears to have come out to give hope to her patients and at the request of many others, according to the article. In the article, she said, “I cannot die a coward.”

In a Washington Post column, the issue is addressed in regard to telling a boss about having a mental illness. One woman’s boss didn’t seem to have an issue after she told him, but another woman’s boss gave her less demanding work, which made her regret her decision. The conclusion seems to be that it depends on the person and situation.

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EmpowHER Guest

Dr. Linehan's announcement was much appreciated by the mental health community, but she has reached that stage in her career where she can be honest without having as much to lose whereas if she had been "outed" at an early stage, she probably would have encountered prejudice and roadblocks that would have prevented her from being as successful as she is now. Elyn Saks also mentioned this in her book "This Center Can Not Hold", waiting until she had tenure to divulge her mental illness.

July 1, 2011 - 11:33pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.