What to expect when you tell them about your mental illness

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When you're diagnosed with a mental illness, one of the first things you'll have to do - and then something you'll have to do periodically for the rest of your life - is explain your diagnosis to friends, family, and people you know. Many believe that this is the hardest part of things.

The reactions you receive will vary. Some people act differently than others and some will have more understanding or empathy than will others. Here are the reactions you can expect.

Curious. Nothing changes.
The best ones will be those who are curious and ask questions about your diagnosis and what it means, but will then proceed to treat you no differently than before and be supportive when it's needed. These are the ones that will be the easiest to tell.

These are the ones who'll want to argue everything about your illness. They'll deny you have anything really wrong, will maybe say it's "all in your head" (umm.. duhh), or will question every treatment your doctor prescribes. Often they'll be dismissive. Most of them will at least stick around and still treat you well when the discussion isn't about your condition.

Empathetic, nice, and gone.
There will be those who show a lot of empathy, talk with you deeply about what this means for you, and seem very understanding. Then they'll leave. These are the ones that will be toughest to deal with because they seemed like good friends, appeared to be understanding of what was happening, and then will give you that final, unannounced rejection by disappearing from your life. Likely because they just can't bring themselves to deal with it. It will be hard, but you'll be better off.

These are sort of like the skeptics above, but once the initial discussion is over, they'll never talk about it again and will deny knowing anything about it and avoid all conversation on the subject from that point forward. When you talk to others about it in their presence, they'll act confused and probably leave the conversation. The good news is that they'll still stick around and will still treat you like a normal person. Just don't expect much empathy.

Dealing with this.
How you deal with these reactions will depend on your personality and how much the person means to you. You'll feel very bad about those who reject the condition and try to ignore your problems, but you'll feel worse about those who just walk away from it. Most likely, though, those who walk are the ones who cannot deal with the situation and may have something of their own going on. Don't judge.

Your therapist and close friends can help you through these times. You'll find that the majority of people you love and cherish will stick around regardless. Be glad for that.


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