Explaining a Family Member's Diagnosis to Others

July 19, 2021 Nicola Spendlove

Explaining a family member's diagnosis to others can be scary because you never know how they're going to react. Sometimes it works out really well. For example, my fiancé couldn't be more understanding of my brother's chronic mental illness. Not only is he accepting of the way this affects our family's lives, he is also proactive in thinking of ways that we can better support my brother. Not everyone is like this, though, which is why explaining a family member's mental health diagnosis to others can be so challenging.

Explaining a Diagnosis Gets Easier

Because I've explained my brother's diagnosis to others so many times now, I have a speech pretty much memorized about what his diagnosis is and how it affects him functionally. I forget sometimes that this used to be a difficult topic for me to talk about -- I used to stumble over my words and get emotional, but now it comes out on autopilot.

I guess one thing you could do to avoid getting tongue-tied is to learn a little "spiel" about your loved one's diagnosis -- but the question is, why should you have to? Unless you're giving some sort of a presentation about your experience, should you really devote energy to this?

As the years have gone on, I've realized that I don't owe anyone an explanation about my brother's mental illness. This means that I'm increasingly selective about who I share this information with. Sometimes our extended family will make back-handed comments about how my brother doesn't attend a lot of events -- rather than rushing in with a medical explanation, I've learned to pick my battles.

Above all else, it's very important to bear in mind confidentiality when explaining a family member's diagnosis to others. At the end of the day, this is their medical history -- ask yourself, would my family member be happy with this person knowing their private information? The answer may well be yes, but it's important to stop and consider it first. If you need to vent about your loved one's diagnosis (and we all need this sometimes), maybe consider doing so with a counselor to protect their right to confidentiality.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please feel free to leave a comment.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2021, July 19). Explaining a Family Member's Diagnosis to Others, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

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