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 towards mental health problems. It is also a powerful tool in giving hope to individuals suffering who suffering from such conditions.
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 psychoses3.
It is normal to feel you are 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.
The support that you get 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. Your personal stories, regardless of whether they portray struggle or survival, can provide support for others.
Research shows some benefits of sharing mental health stories include connectedness, empowerment, appreciation, and hope. Other outcomes include validation and reference shift1.
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, a lot of 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 that surrounds mental disorders may be a major reason behind such actions.
Sharing your story provides an educational experience for individuals who don't understand. And for each person who changes their negative perception, there is less stigma.
Telling your story allows you to reflect on your journey towards recovery. You may gain a better perspective when you look back at incidents. This might prove helpful to you moving forward.
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.
Sharing your experience about the ups and downs of maintaining a relationship with someone who suffers from 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.
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, 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, only a certified professional is qualified to give such advice. It is important to let your audience know this.
Note: we cannot overemphasize the importance of sharing your story the right way. If your experiences are perceived as authentic by listeners, the benefits will be substantial. But in a case where it is not, there may be harmful consequences. Individuals can lose their self-esteem, become pessimistic or disconnected because of inauthentic stories.
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 to guide you in choosing what to say and how to say it. If you share your story with someone going through a mental crisis 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 originally initiated by you. It may come from an organization or group. Before you speak or give permission, consider how your story will be used 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. 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.
Make sure to choose a channel that presents no harm to your mental well-being. If you feel your emotions may get in the way during conversations, try writing instead. 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.
WHO (2019) Mental disorders