The Etiquette Of Revealing Mental Illness

January 15, 2013 Alistair McHarg

Mental illness is usually not visible to the naked eye, or the private eye for that matter, or even the naked private eye, although, candidly, if you’re being followed by a naked private eye he’s the one that needs to be concerned about mental illness, not you – but enough about me.

My point, which is moving across the landscape with the alacrity of a Tasmanian sloth, is this: Whackadoomians have the option of keeping their mental state a secret, a mental state secret – if you will – and if you won’t, I will, so it works out. This seems like a tremendous relief, and in many ways it is, after all this is personal information, often awkward, which we might prefer to keep to ourselves.

But it is not as simple as that for at least two reasons. First, if our conditions could have direct impact on others, we are honor bound to reveal relevant details. Next, we most likely will benefit if friends and associates understand our challenges and limitations. (Many of us lose sight of this because we fear judgment, stigma, and ridicule.)

In AA they say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” not that I’m in AA you understand, I have a friend who once read a book about it. And all of us know, if only intuitively, that secrets are more corrosive than rust. In an ideal world, one reveals vital information about mental illness as soon as reasonably possible. This leaves us with the question – when is the best time to go public with your mental illness?

Of course the answer varies from one individual to the next and according to the specifics of given situations – but here are some guidelines.

When interacting with authority figures – before the handcuffs go on

At work – before you are terminated for setting the copier on fire

At a party – before you regale guests with tales of intergalactic travel

At a restaurant – before you order soup and a straw

At church – before you stand up and say, “Oh yeah? That ‘s what YOU think!”

In general – tell them before they figure it out for themselves!

APA Reference
McHarg, A. (2013, January 15). The Etiquette Of Revealing Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Alistair McHarg

January, 19 2013 at 2:24 pm

I LOVE your writing style! This is the perfect read for a day like today: my birthday spent alone because my Whackadooliness made me imagine that I was mad at my boyfriend for....something. Can't remember now. Probably nothing. Eh, I will apologize for whatever it was later, after which he will apologize more because he is under the delusion that he is supposed to take care of me and protect me from things that might "trigger an episode." It was insulting at first to learn he felt this way, but then I began to slowly realize the benefits of his ungrounded beliefs. Then I also realized that to take advantage of that would be, er, well...crazy. Ha! So I'm still trying to figure out the algebra on that.
Great post. Great perspective. Great humor. You're a gem!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alistair McHarg
January, 20 2013 at 2:51 am

Hello Jenna: Happy Birthday! Thanks for writing. You have done a great job of describing the complexities inherent in the "feedback loop" - so lovely when people observe our behavior and intervene because they love us - but is it wise-needed-fair to them etc? - We live with this dilemma every day. - Awareness is key; annoying sometimes - but key! - Thanks for the lovely words, hope you visit often!

January, 16 2013 at 7:42 am

Hi Alistair! Telling those around me that I have bipolar and am one fry short of a Happy Meal is not easy. I plan on teaching, somehow I don't think telling the principal will work to my advantage. I just might get handcuffs on me while being escorted out the door.One of my son's teachers was actually fired and then was escorted by police out of the building (have no idea why), and people wonder why I'm paranoid about it! I've fantasized about setting printers on fire or taking an ax to them. It would save on a lot of aggravation if we could all do that. Have a blessed week!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alistair McHarg
January, 16 2013 at 8:24 am

Hi Cindy: I believe you would be a wonderful teacher. Remember that you are under no obligation to reveal your diagnosis - knowledge is power - be selective about who you tell and under what circumstances. Cheers!

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