What to Consider Before Sharing Your Depression Diagnosis – hopetocope.com | Hope To Cope With Anxiety & Depression

Keeping your depression secret can be stifling, but disclosure sometimes has drawbacks. Here’s expert advice on how to minimize the negative effects of stigma.

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I’ve heard disclosing a diagnosis can be liberating, but what about stigma?

Adults who live with depression can feel misunderstood and marginalized by those around them. There are many people—family members and friends included—who dont truly understand mental health disorders. They believe that depression is a sign of weakness and dont realize that its a real medical condition.

Anti-stigma campaigns have done great work to debunk myths that surround depression. Recent research shows that younger generations are more accepting of mental health issues and view seeking treatment for depression as a sign of strength. And attitudes toward psychotherapy appear to be softening among older generations, too.

In many cases, letting people know you live with depression pays dividends in stronger support—plus, you expend less energy on hiding the truth. But when you encounter stigma, it can be a soul-crushing experience. To help minimize negative fallout, here are tips to consider when talking to others about your depression.

#1 Set Your Intention

Ask yourself why you want others to know: What does telling that person offer you? What might the other person gain from such knowledge? What are you hoping will happen once you share? How does disclosing your depression help or hinder your treatment?

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll discover if your reason for sharing comes from an emotional or practical need.

#2 Be Prepared

Decide in advance how much you are willing to share, which details you’ll reveal. For example, do you want to say youre in therapy? That you take medication? Do you want to talk about specific experiences? If so, which ones? If not, what do you consider personal and private?

It often helps to practice what you plan to say. Knowing the outline ahead of time can keep you confident—and ready to set boundaries if questions become too intense. Arm yourself with phrases like, Im not ready to share that with you now,” or, “Im not comfortable talking about that.”

#3 Speak Up for Yourself

Once youve disclosed that you live with depression, you may find yourself educating others when they make a stigmatizing statement or treat you in an inappropriate way. It might be a joke about depression that insults you. Or maybe your partner gets mad at you for being lazy, failing to recognize that its fatigue keeping you stuck. Take advantage of these “teachable moments.”

One of my biggest complaints is when I’m sad about something specific and a loved one asks me if Ive taken my medication. Their concern is genuine, but the way they express it is minimizing and hurtful. That’s when I respond, “Its okay that Im sad. Having depression doesnt mean I never get sad. Sometimes, being sad is exactly whats needed in the moment. Whats not okay is assuming my sadness means Im not taking care of myself. I’d prefer if you asked me why I feel the way I’m feeling.”

What about stigma at work?

Patrick Corrigan, PsyD, a preeminent stigma researcher, warns that disclosing your depression in the workplace needs to be thoughtfully and carefully considered. Stigma tends to be easier to manage person-to-person. In the working world, the shadow of stigma looms larger.

Studies show that adults with mental health conditions identify employment discrimination as one of their most frequent stigma experiences. Revealing a depression diagnosis can limit career advancement, or place you at a lower competitive salary.

If your depression is in remission, theres no compelling need to share your health status with your employer. If youve been recently diagnosed, are having a current episode, or are taking new medication, talk things out with your therapist or a trusted advisor to weigh whether letting a manager or supervisor know would be a good idea.

Stigma is lessening when it comes to depression, but theres still a long way to go. Be mindful about what is best for you—and, sometimes, what is best may be to not disclose.

Printed as Ask the Therapist: Sharing Your Diagnosis, Fall 2016
Originally published November 5, 2016

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