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Getting a diagnosis of your mental illness can be both scary and a relief. While it’s great that you’re on the path to getting well again, telling people about your illness can bring on anxiety and stress. Here’s how to work out who to tell, how to tell them, and how to deal with any anxiety you might feel.

This can help if:

  • you’ve recently been diagnosed with a mental illness
  • you’re worried about what people will think of you, and how they’ll treat you, once they know about your illness
  • you feel anxious about sharing your diagnosis with others.
Two high school boys smiling

Mental illness and stigma

Unfortunately, there is still some stigma surrounding mental illness and it’s possible that you’ll have to deal with it at some point. The good news is that there’s been a lot of progress in mental health awareness, and the stigma is fading. Some (in fact, most) people will be supportive and understanding, but be prepared for others to be confused, ignorant or negative. When faced with these situations, remember that your illness doesn’t define who you are.

Being okay with your mental illness

A good thing to do before telling people about your mental illness is to take some time to understand your own feelings about the diagnosis. Remember that a mental illness is just like a physical illness: they both involve a diagnosis and treatment. A mental illness shouldn’t be stigmatised just because you can’t physically see it. Being ‘okay’ with your mental illness can help you be more confident about sharing the diagnosis with others without feeling fear or shame. In most cases, through treatment of a mental illness, people build better coping skills and resilience, which makes them stronger.

Telling people about your diagnosis

Whether or not you tell someone about your mental illness is completely your choice. You don’t have to tell everyone you know (or anyone at all, for that matter), especially if you don’t comfortable talking about it. If and when you’re ready to tell others, remember:

  • Pick a day and time when you’re feeling strong. Don’t force yourself to do it if you’re feeling vulnerable.
  • Tell the person as much or as little about it as you want. You’re not obligated to tell everyone everything.
  • Rehearse the conversation in your head before you have it – even if it feels a bit strange!
  • Sharing, particularly with friends and family, can be a good way to find support.
  • It may be important to tell your employer, in case you need to take time off, but you don’t have to. If you do, they’re required by law to keep this information confidential.
  • With mental illness affecting one in five adults (or one in four adolescents), chances are that most people know someone who’s dealing with a similar issue.

What to do if others react badly

If someone reacts negatively to news of your illness, you can choose either to ignore them or to educate them. It’s totally fine to brush off their reaction and move on, particularly if you’re feeling low. It’s not your job to teach others about your illness but, if you find that you do want to speak out, educating someone who’s ignorant about your illness can help break down the stigma and might make you feel better.

What can I do now?

  • Remember that mental illness isn’t a sign of weakness and that your illness doesn’t define you.
  • It’s important to feel comfortable in yourself about your illness, and that might take time. This will also make it much easier to share news of it with others.
  • It’s your choice whether or not you tell people, and you can reveal as much or as little as you feel comfortable doing.
  • Read more about better communication.