How to talk about your own mental health in media

Presented by:

  • Aalia Lanius, President at Unsugarcoated Media
  • Ibbits Newhall, Owner and Specialist at Recovery Roadmap Specialists
  • Jared Lindzon, Journalist at The New York Times and Fast Company
  • Allison Walsh, Vice President of Business Development at Advanced Recovery Systems

Despite the fact that over 970 million people across the globe live with a mental health disorder,there is still the stigma that there is something shameful about mental illness. 

This can make it daunting to open up about it, but sharing your mental health story can bring a great deal of relief, help you receive valuable support, and even significantly impact others in a similar situation. However, it can also expose you to negative or unsupportive reactions.

Tips for sharing your mental health story

If you’re considering sharing your mental health story, you probably have a lot of concerns, such as:

  • What will my family think?
  • Will I be accepted in my culture?
  • My story isn’t important.
  • Once I share my story, I can no longer live in denial.
  • Will I upset some people with triggering content?
  • How do I avoid unsolicited advice?
  • Do I have to be completely recovered to share?
  • What will the reaction be?

There is no one correct way to share your story, but a major part is overcoming all the fears and concerns above. However, we can share some tips to help you share your story if and when you’re ready:

  • Speak to loved ones first: As hard as it may seem, you should speak to your loved ones before you share your story. Not to get their permission but so they are not blindsided by you’re revelations. Choose a safe and neutral space to talk, and let them in.
  • Remember, it’s a personal decision: You’re in charge of what you share and can choose what you allow to be seen. Share what you’re comfortable with at first, and you’ll find the more you speak up, the easier it will get.
  • Find guidance: If you’re concerned that you might trigger someone with your story or have any other concerns, seek guidance. Talk to your therapist or personal mentor and discuss what is appropriate to share.
  • Choose where to share: Going public with your story can be as small as a 280-character tweet or as big as an opinion piece in a national publication. Whether you prefer the intimacy of a closed online group or are ready for the world to know, you’re in control of how you share. It’s not the scale of the disclosure that matters but the sense of freedom and empowerment it provokes.
  • Find community: There are many wonderful online communities where people can talk openly about their mental health, such as The Mighty and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They are a great place to share your thoughts, an excellent resource for information, and a way to find people you can support and who can support you.
  • Encourage connection: Using first-person language when discussing your experiences helps readers or listeners connect with you and your story. Furthermore, use real examples of your experiences as opposed to abstract metaphors. 
  • Find balance: Try and find a balance when describing your experiences with mental illness, neither sugar-coating them nor being overly negative. Being honest and tactful can help you relate to others while providing hope and encouragement.
  • Be ready to listen: Sharing your story can inspire disclosure from others, particularly when someone sees a similar story. So, if you’re open to sharing, be open to listening too. 
  • Mention mental health resources: When sharing your story, consider sharing like or information about suitable mental health resources in case someone hearing your message needs additional support.

Learning to deal with a negative response

We cannot promise that every response to your story will be positive. You can only help those who you can help. Some people may not be ready to hear what you have to say. 

Therefore, learning to deal with a negative response is an essential part of sharing your story so you don’t feel discouraged or ashamed. Don’t let the concerns about a negative reaction prevent you from taking ownership of your story. We have a few things to keep in mind if you do see a negative comment on your story:

  • Block and report: If a comment or response is harmful and offensive, sometimes it’s better to report the comment and block the sender. Sometimes, people post comments hoping to provoke a reaction or a response, and the best thing you can do is not give it to them.
  • Respond with facts, not emotions: If someone questions the legitimacy of your story or the information you provide, give yourself a moment before you respond to avoid an emotional response that invites negative thoughts. If you do choose to respond, do so with facts or direct them to resources where they can learn more.
  • Have a cautious public conversation: Consider having a careful conversation to engage them further if you believe their negative comment is more about something they are going through rather than the story you have told. 

How sharing your story can help others

Sharing your story is not just empowering for you; it can be beneficial for others and the loved ones of others going through similar struggles in so many ways, including:

  • Combat stigma and shame, encouraging others to speak openly about their own experiences living with a mental health condition.
  • Living with a mental illness can feel incredibly isolating; sharing your story can make someone feel less alone. By opening up with your struggles, you help people to feel seen and heard.
  • Help someone experiencing struggles with their mental health to seek professional help.
  • Show people that they can continue working, attend school, etc., and manage their mental health conditions.
  • Advocate for others by being a voice for people who can’t yet be a voice for themselves.