There is a lot of encouragement in the media, and on social media around being very open about our mental health. It can range from articles insisting that the only way to break stigma is for all of us to talk about our mental health, to campaigns encouraging us to talk to family, friends, and colleagues about how we feel, to organisations and media outlets asking us to share our mental health story with them so that they can publish it.
It can feel quite overwhelming. If we’ve only recently been diagnosed with a mental health condition then the thought of sharing it with lots of different people can be terrifying. On the other hand, we might really want to be open about our mental health but not know where to start.
Should We Start Talking Openly About Our Mental Health?
Whether we should start talking openly about our mental health or not can be a difficult question to answer. It’s not normally black and white, and ultimately it’s important to remember that it’s a personal decision. We shouldn’t feel pressurised to share our story just because somebody else has, everyone’s circumstances are different. If we’re trying to decide whether or not we want to start talking about our mental health, there are a few different questions that it can be helpful to consider:
- Are we protecting the identity of anyone who hasn’t given permission for their details to be shared? This could include friends, family members, professionals, or people we’ve been in treatment with.
- Do our friends, family, and employer know about our mental health status? Are we happy for them to know? Do we want to tell them personally or are we happy for them to find out through any campaign/media work we’re doing?
- Are we happy for anyone at all in our past, present or future (including future children, family, friends, and employers) to know about our mental health status if the work we’re doing is going to be publicly available?
- Can we protect ourselves? Are we prepared to cope with the different reactions we might receive? Can we share our story without having to struggle through painful memories that cause us to become more unwell?
- Do we have enough support to speak openly about our mental health?
- Are we able to separate ourselves from our illness? Have we thought about whether opening up about our mental health in a public way could lead to it becoming an identity, which could ultimately lead to it keeping us unwell?
- Is it safe for us to talk openly about our mental health? Or could it lead to us losing our accommodation, or being put in difficult situations at work or home?
There isn’t often a simple, easy answer to questions like these. Often we will have to think about them for a while and talk it through with family and friends. We might need to sit on our decision for a while to make sure it’s the right one. Perhaps we decide that we don’t want to be open about our mental health because we’re not ready, but a year or two later we decide that the time is right to start sharing things. There’s no rush. Sometimes we might not know why, but our gut is pulling us one way or the other.
Once we’ve worked through these questions, and any other questions we might have, we can begin to think about how we want to start talking openly about our mental health.
Talking openly about our mental health doesn’t have to be a case of ‘all or nothing’. We can choose to be open with some people and not with others. We all have a right to some privacy.
Some of us might choose to be more public about our mental health, either with a contained group of people, for example, a focus group, or in a more open format, for example by sharing our experiences online or in the media.
There are no rules about how much we have to share – we could decide to be super open about some things and a closed book on others. We don’t have to share our entire mental health story, but it can be helpful to be clear in our own mind about the things we do and don’t want to share before we start sharing anything. It’s an awful lot easier to add additional information than it is to take things back.
When being open with our friends and family, we can communicate information about our mental health in a variety of ways. We could talk to them, post things on private social media accounts, or write things down.
If we want to share our story more publicly then there are loads of different ways that we can do so. Some of us are the type of people who like to know exactly what to expect. We might choose to type a piece of work for people to share without editing, or to share a pre-written talk and not answer any questions. On the other hand, if we’re more spontaneous we might prefer to share our experiences in an interview or question-and-answer format.
We might be someone who prefers to be quite independent when we share things. Some of us don’t like going through organisations or the media and prefer to do things on our own. Blogs, YouTube videos, art, music, and personal social media accounts can be very helpful when we want to get our story out there. If we would prefer to go through other organisations then there are often mental health campaigns that ask for people to share their experiences in a variety of ways including talks, panels, pieces of writing, and fundraising. Sometimes these organisations will also post asking for people to feed into focus groups or pieces of research. Media outlets, such as TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers will often ask for people to speak to them about their mental health and mental illness experiences, too.
Prepare For A Variety Of Responses
People can be lovely and we might receive some amazing feedback and encouragement that really helps to give us a boost. Sadly, we might also receive some difficult feedback. Unfortunately, not everyone is as understanding as we would like them to be and there is still a lot of stigma around mental health and mental illness. We could receive feedback that leaves us feeling upset, angry, frustrated, unheard and misunderstood.
It’s not possible to control the way that people react to the things we share. Depending on how we’ve shared our story, we might be able to hide or choose not to look at some of the responses we receive, but we can’t normally avoid people’s reactions altogether.
We need to make sure that we’re prepared to receive a variety of responses, and that we have things in place to help us cope with them. The last thing we want is for our openness about our mental health to result in a relapse.
Once we’ve decided to be open about our mental health, we’ve decided how we want to do it, how much we want to share and have made sure that we have enough support in place, it can help to practice. This is particularly important if we plan to talk about our mental health in person. If we decide to share through our writing, videos, art, music, or similar, then we can normally edit our work until we’re happy with it. But if we’re doing a talk, having a conversation or doing something else ‘live’, then it can help to prepare and practice before we do it. This not only helps us to feel more confident but can also help us to be really clear in our mind about how much of our story we want to share.
Sharing our story, and having conversations about mental health can be really draining. It can be exhausting to put so much of ourselves out there. Making sure that we have enough downtime planned in around the work that we’re doing can give us the time and space that we need in order to recharge. It’s also a good plan to ensure that we have tools in place to manage any difficult emotions that might crop up.
We need to be honest with ourselves and others. This starts with what we decide to speak openly about. We don’t need to divulge experiences that we don’t want to share, but we do need to honest with the parts of our story that we do share.
We also need to make sure that we keep checking in with how we’re feeling about being open. Even if we’ve been sharing our story for years, we might reach a point where we don’t want to do it any more – and that’s okay! Changing our mind is allowed. We just need to make sure that we’re honest with ourselves and with others if we do begin to feel uncomfortable about what we’re sharing, and if we find ourselves needing some more support. Deciding to be open about our mental health is a very personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer, and nobody can make the decision for us.
Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.