Disclosing Your Mental Illness in a New Relationship
Let's talk about this scenario: You meet someone new, you're hitting it off, and you think you want to get to know this person better. Your mental illness is a big part of your life, and if they are going to be a part of your life, you know you want them to know about it eventually, but you don't know when or how to bring it up.
Deciding when and how to tell someone new about your mental illness can be nerve-racking. There is no set rule or guideline about when and how to tell someone new about your mental illness because it depends on each individual person's situation, but thinking through different factors and reflecting on your own can help you come to the right decision for you.
Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Someone New
- Your own comfort level
- Your past experiences disclosing your mental illness
- The severity of your mental illness
- How apparent or relevant the symptoms are to your ability to further a relationship with this person
- The other person's level of empathy, understanding, or familiarity with mental health issues
- Your own and their cultural or religious backgrounds
- The level of connection you feel in this relationship
- The importance of your mental health for your identity
One place to start is by taking a look at your own feelings toward your mental illness, the way your upbringing influenced your opinions on mental health, how accepting you are of your own diagnosis, your past experiences with discrimination, and the impact of your culture's views on mental health. Reflecting on these things can give you more of an idea of how you would like to approach the conversation.
Mental Health Stigma Makes It Hard to Talk About Mental Illness
Mental illness can be a source of deep shame or insecurity for many people, especially since mental health awareness is relatively new and people with mental illnesses were historically misunderstood and demonized.1 I am fortunate to have many open-minded and supportive people in my social circle who have progressive views toward mental health, but in some social groups or subcultures, mental illness is still a taboo subject.
Testing the waters by bringing up mental health as a general topic to gauge the other person's response or providing vague details to step into the conversation slowly can help you decide whether this new person is a safe person to confide in or whether the time is right to talk about your mental health.
If you were raised with a veil of secrecy over mental health, the thought of disclosing your mental illness to someone new could trigger feelings of shame and fear. If you open up about your mental health to someone who comes from a background where mental illness is stigmatized, he or she may have difficulty showing support. Education can be helpful in these situations. Providing information on your diagnosis and what it means for you can help the other person understand and support you even if he or she hasn't had any experience with it before.
See the video below for more about how to decide whether the time is right and how providing education can help others understand and empathize with your mental health.
What has it been like to tell others about your mental illness? How did they respond?
- Tracy, N., "The History of Mental Illness." HealthyPlace, October 2019.
Sabatello, J. (2021, June 7). Disclosing Your Mental Illness in a New Relationship, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2021/6/disclosing-your-mental-illness-in-a-new-relationship
Author: Juliana Sabatello
The breakdown of factors to consider is wonderful. So clear and helpful. Disclosing a mental illness can always bring some nerves, especially when it's in a new relationship, but this is something that so many have to confront. Wonderful to come across this kind of supporting, encouraging advice.