Mental health disorders are more common than people like to admit. In 2016, about 1 billion individuals suffered from mental health disorders. Together with addictive disorders, mental health disorders caused 19% of years lived with disability2. Despite the problems that mental health disorders can cause, many people refuse to get professional help. Why? The fear of stigma and discrimination prevented and still prevents individuals from speaking up and seeking help.
Sharing stories about mental illness is a great way to desensitize people who react with ignorance and fear toward mental health problems. It is also a powerful tool in giving hope to individuals suffering from mental health challenges.
Just like many illnesses that affect the body, there is also more than one type of mental illness. Depression is the most widespread mental disorder, followed by dementia. Next is bipolar disorder, and then schizophrenia and other psychoses.
Why you should share your mental health story
It is normal to feel utterly alone when mental illness weighs you down. However, this feeling is unhealthy and can make life even more unbearable. When you share your story and listen to those of other people, you can connect with their experiences. Sharing your tales of struggle and progress helps you connect with family and peers to create a supportive community around you. Our collection of mental health quotes might help inspire you.
Your support can help you develop a more positive outlook on your challenges.
Mental illness can have symptoms that make living and interacting with society very difficult for patients. Regardless of whether they portray struggle or survival, your personal stories can provide support for others.
Research shows some benefits of sharing mental health stories, including connectedness, empowerment, appreciation, and hope. Other outcomes include validation and reference shift1. Simply not feeling alone can help someone else gain a more positive attitude toward their challenges.
Related: Train as a Mental Health First Aider
About one in five adults in the US live with a mental illness. As of 2019, 51.5 million Americans were living with a mental illness. In England, 8 in 100 individuals are diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depression. Despite its commonness, many individuals go to great lengths to hide their depression, eating disorders, and/or anxiety from their families. Such individuals may feel ashamed or reluctant to seek help. The stigma surrounding mental disorders may be a significant reason behind such actions.
Sharing your story can provide an educational experience for individuals who don't understand and aid in combatting stigma. And for each person who changes their negative perception, there is a bit less stigma in the world.
Telling your story allows you to reflect on your journey toward recovery. You may gain a better perspective when you look back at incidents. This might prove helpful to you moving forward.
What stories you can share
All stories matter, especially yours. Going through mental illness changes a person in ways that many may not understand unless someone tells them. Therefore your story is more than just a collection of information; it is a part of your life.
Not all personal stories need to have a happy ending. You can tell stories of struggle, of survival, and recovery.
Experience of a loved one
Sharing your experience about the ups and downs of maintaining a relationship with someone who has a mental disorder can be uplifting for those suffering and their families. Keep in mind that doing this requires permission from the person whose story is to be shared.
How to share your mental health story
Avoid embellishing or oversimplifying your story. A dishonest account of your experiences can cause serious harm to hearers. It is better to tell the story from your own point of view, as it is possible to misinterpret details if you try to be an omniscient narrator.
You do not have to disclose every single detail, especially if it puts you or a loved one in danger. Setting a boundary is a great way to avoid violation and exploitation. Do not allow anyone to coerce you into giving up information. It is okay to withhold the real names of people and places if you wish. You can represent a name with an alphabet or a number or swap it for another name.
If your story involves personal details of other individuals, make sure you get their permission to share.
Your story is unique to your life, experiences, and circumstances. You should never present it as treatment advice, and only a certified professional is qualified to give such advice. It is important to let your audience know this.
Additionally, whereas sharing your mental health story can prove beneficial, it's only one aspect of any path to treatment or recovery from mental health issues. Reach out to your local mental health services and seek support from professionals if you feel like you might need additional support.
Note: we cannot overemphasize the importance of sharing your story the right way. If listeners perceive your experiences as authentic, the benefits will be substantial. But there may be harmful consequences in a case where it is not. Individuals can lose their self-esteem and become pessimistic or disconnected because of inauthentic stories.
Things to consider when sharing a mental health story
When you share your story with a stranger, a support group, or your friends, keep in mind the reason why you are doing so. This can help guide you in choosing what to say and how to say it. If you share your story with someone with the symptoms of mental health conditions like yourself, your purpose may be to offer encouragement or share vital information that has benefited you. When you share with your friends, your purpose may be to educate them and destigmatize mental health disorders.
Sometimes, the move to share your experience may not be initially initiated by you. It may come from an organization or group. Before you speak or give permission, consider how people will use your story and if it aligns with your values.
Sharing your story with your loved ones, support group, or colleagues at work will cost you a degree of privacy. You need to consider how you feel about that loss. You can choose a small group to start with to see how story-sharing feels. Thankfully, you can minimize the degree of privacy you lose with the use of anonymity.
There are many channels through which you can share personal stories. You may choose public speaking, publishing books or web articles, or videos. You can even leverage social media apps to get your message across. If you find your story helped others on a specific channel, you may choose to do more with it to have it further heard.
Make sure to choose a channel that presents no harm to your mental well-being. Try writing instead if you feel your emotions may get in the way during conversations. Also, speaking in front of a large crowd may not be ideal for a person with social anxiety.
Stefan Rennick-Egglestone (2019) The impact of mental health recovery narratives on recipients experiencing mental health problems: Qualitative analysis and change model. PLoS One. 14(12)
Rehm J., Shield K.D. (2019) Global burden of disease and the impact of mental and addictive disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports 21.