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Choose carefully when sharing mental-health status

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Choose carefully when sharing status of your mental health

Q: Do you think I have to disclose to my friends, relatives, dates, etc., that I'm on antidepressants? It's likely to change my relationships in some ways (I hope for the better), so I feel these people deserve an explanation, but I'm afraid I'm going to feel judged, whether or not anyone is actually judging me. What do you think?

D.C.

A: Friends, no, relatives, no, dates, no. Until you get to the point where you think things are on a serious, committed path. You should also feel free to tell anyone you trust not to judge you, since it would probably be good for both of you to share the truth. I say all this for a couple of reasons:

(1) Intimacy isn't possible unless you share who you are, fully, even (especially?) the stuff you're afraid to share. That's not to say you should spill all and just cross your fingers that loved ones won't make you pay; choose people carefully, get to know them, then wait until you know enough about them to feel safe, and until you trust yourself enough to carry on even if the person lets you down. That's when you start revealing more.

(2) Looking for this "safe" point will help you see more clearly whether you're surrounding yourself with people who are good for you. If it turns out you have good cause to believe people will judge you for simply tending to your health, then you have another, potentially valuable piece of your mental-health puzzle. Your relationships may change for the better after you stabilize your moods, but they can improve only so much if the people you're spending time with are negative, critical, judgmental and/or looking for leverage against you.

Your depression might shade the way you view your relationships, and that's why medication is best taken with a side of high-quality talk therapy.

Anonymous: When you do share, please don't present it as something shameful. When I told my close friends and family, I shared it as great news, which it was.

Carolyn: Yes.

Anonymous 2: Maybe it's generational (I'm in my mid 20s), but I've never really perceived much of a stigma around using antidepressants. It's so common; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 10 Americans takes them. That means virtually everyone has somebody close to them or in their families that is sharing your experience.

Carolyn: Yes, maybe generational, but I'm a generation older and I don't see a stigma, either, except occasionally via the column. Maybe it's also a bit geographic. Or socioeconomic. Or cultural. Socioecogeoculturational.

Plus there's some backlash stigma, in that the numbers of people on antidepressants (also true of ADHD meds) have given rise to an "I don't want to be one of those take-a-pill-and-make-it-go-away people" camp.

That idea is ludicrous, of course, to responsible prescribers and patients, who know the hard work that goes into diagnosis and treatment. That's why it's important not to get distracted by uninformed opinions.

The moral of the story, I hope, is that this is chiefly the business of doctor and patient, and that the best course for loved ones is to support people's efforts to get and remain well.

Choose carefully when sharing mental-health status 01/14/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 5:25pm]
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