Helping Patients Understand the Potential Impact of Disclosing Their Condition
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million adults in America experience some form of mental illness each year. That's one in five adults who share the effects of mental illness on their social lives. What's more, 18.1 percent of adults live with anxiety disorders each year. These are serious facts that reflect the prevalence of mental illness.
Understanding the Stigma
With its widespread occurrence among adults, we might think that some of the stigma associated with mental illness has decreased, especially because of greater public awareness. However, whether you will discuss mental illness is a private matter. Practitioners working with patients can help them to understand the potential consequences of discussing their conditions in public forums. When people understand the situation, they can make an informed decision before talking about mental health issues. Some forums can go viral (i.e. online).
Portraying the Impact of Disclosure
Patrick W. Corrigan, Benjamin G. Druss, and Deborah A. Perlick summed up the effects of the stigma about mental health conditions clearly in their recent article:
"From a public standpoint, stereotypes depicting people with mental illness as being dangerous, unpredictable, responsible for their illness, or generally incompetent can lead to active discrimination, such as excluding people with these conditions from employment and social or educational opportunities. In medical settings, negative stereotypes can make providers less likely to focus on the patient rather than the disease, endorse recovery as an outcome of care, or refer patients to needed consultations and follow-up services."
Is it a good idea to publicly share mental health issue?
The answer greatly depends on how a therapist may approach their patients in terms of providing mental health therapy. On the one hand, their approach may include helping patients getting traumatic issues out into the open, as with Accelerated Resolution Therapy. However, this usually occurs in a clinical setting. On the other hand, therapists might help patients develop skills to cope and self-regulate, especially when they experience anxiety or depression and/or physical symptoms of their condition. The goal of mental health therapy, whether medical or psychological, is to help people achieve the highest quality of life available to them given their condition. So, discussing their mental health issue publicly may serve a certain purpose. Therapists can't always advise against it without knowing the facts.
These are some examples of why patients might acknowledge their issues in ways that could become public:
- They might join a support group or go on social outings with people with similar conditions, as in groups of teenagers with autism who go out into the community to practice social skills.
- They might wish to discuss their condition in a limited forum, such as with friends and family on Facebook, but this information can become public.
- They might speak out publicly at a fundraiser or a public forum, which is very common in religious organizations, schools, community centers, and higher education institutions.
- Since there are so many scenarios in which discussing a person's mental illness is potentially therapeutic, it's difficult for practitioners to advise patients for or against it.
Be Cautious When Sharing
My goal is to help patients recognize the reasons why they might want to share their mental health status with others. Are they trying to help people like themselves? Are they trying to get help from people in their social network? Do they wish to educate children in their community about living with mental illness? If patients are aware of how their disclosure of private mental health information could impact their employment, education, and social opportunities, they can decide whether it's right for them. If you have any questions contact us today.