Tips for talking about mental health disorders and disabilities
Sarah Austin | Lifestyle Editor
One of the hardest things when struggling with mental illnesses or disabilities can be telling others about it. Disclosing one’s mental health status is important to medical professionals and potential employers for a plethora of reasons and can even reduce stress levels, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Here are some tips to make others aware of an illness or disability while maintaining comfort.
- Who should be told. Make a list of people who do not already know about the status of one’s mental health. Ensure that they are trustworthy and free of judgment. Opening up to these people should feel like a breath of fresh air once done.
- Determine the appropriate time and place. If the disorder or disability hinders the ability to work for any reason, informing an employer is a must. On the other hand, telling a random person at the grocery store is not necessary ⏤ unless assistance is needed. Add these people to the list, as they can help prevent anxiety-filled situations or episodes by knowing beforehand.
- What to tell them. Plan what one would like to be disclosed; for example, if I were disclosing my bipolar disorder to a friend I would let them know what moods to expect from me when I am having an episode and how long the episodes may last. Feel free to also share positive experiences that have happened as a result, such as something it helps with or experiences created by it. Planning what information to tell the person beforehand can reduce stress.
- Suggest support options. Depending on the relationship to the person being told, let them know what could be needed from them. Here are some examples of what this can look like for:
- A significant other: “When I am in an episode, it would help if you gave me physical space. I get triggered when I feel this way and am touched.”
- A friend at the bar: “I’m on medication and am not supposed to drink. Can you be there for me and encourage me so I feel like I still belong?”
- A parent: “I know I need help but making appointments causes anxiety for me, can you help?”
- An employer: “Some days my mental illness affects me in strange ways. If I am doing something wrong or make you uncomfortable, can you let me know instead of reacting right away?”
Remember, disclosing personal information about a mental illness or disability is always the choice of the person affected.
In times of crisis, reach out for help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a free hotline open 24 hours a day at 800-950-6264.
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