On the Decision to Disclose a Diagnosis (or Not)


I feel conflicted about telling people about my diagnosis. On the one hand, I feel a responsibility to disclose to help reduce the stigma of mental illness, especially serious mental illness.

On the other hand, I feel like keeping it to myself because I don’t want to be the object of the stigma against mental illness.

When the president says something contradictory or confusing, people comment, “He is obviously mentally ill!” when what they really mean is that he’s incompetent or unintelligent or just that what he’s saying doesn’t make logical sense to the listener. If someone commits a violent act, that person is either evil or mentally ill, as though they have to be one or the other (or perhaps both) in order to do something bad to another person.

If I tell people that I have a serious mental illness, I worry that they won’t trust me. They’ll think I have low intelligence, which is inaccurate, or that I could go off and do something violent at any moment, which is highly unlikely. I might flip someone the bird in traffic or scream and stomp around behind the closed door of my bedroom and vociferously berate myself, but I feel no inclination towards nor do I have any history of violence. Like most people with mental illness, I am a productive member of society. Like many people with mental illness, I have measurably high intelligence, and I am a responsible parent, spouse, and volunteer within my community.

But I worry that if I tell people that I have bipolar disorder, they won’t see me and allow that reality to change their bias but rather will allow their bias to influence how they see me. I worry that if the schools or my children’s pediatrician find out about my mental illness, they might question my fitness to parent them. I worry that if a potential employer finds out, they might be less likely to hire me. I worry that if people who care about me find out, they’ll treat me differently or try to make allowances or accommodations that they think I need without consulting me. I worry that they’ll limit the number of things they ask me to do or the number of opportunities they might otherwise present to me for what they perceive as my own good rather than allowing me to decide what I’m fit to take on. I worry that my medical providers will give me poorer care because of their biases against mental illness. I worry about people that know me knowing that I’m flawed in this way.

So, I’ve compromised. I’ve told only a handful of people in real life. My husband and my children, two friends, my mother, my sister, my medical providers, my minister. I try to tell only people who meet one or both of these criteria:

  1. They would benefit from knowing (like my mother and sister, for whom my diagnosis could help inform their interactions with mental health professionals).
  2. I would benefit from them knowing (as in the case of telling medical providers who need to know so they’re aware of possible drug interactions or effects, or so I can find a new doctor because the doctor I’m seeing doesn’t know anything about bipolar or about my medication)

I consider blogging about bipolar as covering both categories, but more the second than the first. I like to think that by blogging about mental illness, albeit anonymously, I can help others become more aware of the realities of mental illness, help encourage understanding and compassion, and maybe help do a little bit to reduce the stigma against mental illness.

But mostly I’m doing it for myself. I have so many thoughts about bipolar disorder and about my experience with it and so few people to talk to about it, that even if this is just a series of monologues and even if no one ever reads these posts, it helps to put them out into the world.