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Disclosure Tips for Sticky Situations

In the previous post I briefly discussed disclosure of my illness in regards to housing, and I want to discuss this in a little more detail because people have a right to privacy about their diagnosis. It is unfortunate that some people are open to discuss their mental health, however, sometimes when they think disclosure could be empowering it does more harm than good, due to the fact that other people simply do not understand mental illness.

Although I am open about my diagnosis and experiences to friends and family, and well just about everyone, I am still selective with who I disclose my illness to. I believe sharing such information should be dealt with delicately whenever someone decides to disclose because stigma is still rampant and at work. By no means am I condoning deception, or for someone to lie about their mental health status, I am simply suggesting that people should be cautious.

Due to my experiences, these are some situations where I feel someone should be hesitant about disclosure: 1) housing, 2) employment and or school, and 3) personal relationships. While seeking a home it is your right to not disclose your illness even if you do have disability benefits. When a landlord asks, 'why do have disability benefits?' you can reply by asking their relevance or simply say 'I prefer not to discuss this.'

I would not tell my employer that I have a disability unless I needed accommodations. Someone could say that their disability requires them to have A, B, and C assistance. Even then, they do not have to specify their mental health status. In school, I have accommodations, however, I do not share my diagnosis with professors. I have them sign my assistance form from the disability office at the beginning of the semester by simply saying I have a disability and need accommodations, 'will you sign here.'

Relationships are special. I usually ask trick questions to get a better understanding of my partner's perspective on mental health. For example,I may ask what do you think about depression and if they reply that depression does not exist, that is my cue to not disclose. Other times I ask them if they ever heard of schizophrenia, most of the time they haven't and I may tell them that I work with people with the disorder and begin to educate them about the illness. Then I decipher their interest in the illness. Eventually, if I feel they can handle it I share with them that I have schizophrenia. I do not put a time limit on when I decide to disclose to my partner. Some people I tell, others I never tell and that is my right.

Just because I decide not to disclose my diagnosis does not mean I am ashamed of having the illness. I accept that I have schizophrenia and will have to work hard to manage it. Sometimes I do not find it appropriate to share like the situations I listed. However, I hope I encouraged you to take precaution in a healthy way.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


Jen Daisybee said…
I think you make some good points here, Ashley. Nobody at my workplace knows about my illness. This is because of a very negative experience at my previous job, a few years ago, which led to me quitting that job, because of the way I was treated there.

I think you can be an advocate and encourage people to talk about the truth and use their voice, while, at the same time, protecting yourself from the discrimination that does exist and can have very real unfortunate effects on your life
Ashley Smith said…
Hi Jen Daisybee, thank you for sharing your experience. I appreciate your openness about this topic. I believe together we can overcome stigma by uniting and sharing experiences and educating others.

Best regards,

minx said…
Hi Ashley, I'm from South Africa and have been searching for a friend with this condition. This information really helps, before I just lunge into disclosing my illness.


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