When Should I Tell Someone I Have a Mental Illness?

Knowing when to tell someone you have a mental illness is ... complicated. It's a serious topic and the answer is hard to figure out. And you have to figure it out for each individual person and situation (What to Tell a Date About Your Mental Illness). I've had to do it plenty of times, and here's my advice for when to tell someone you live with a mental illness.

When Should I Tell Someone I Have a Mental Illness?Let's use a couple of examples to figure out when it's the time to talk about mental illness in different relationships.

Example A:

Woman meets man and they decide they rather like spending time together. First, they go for coffee and talk about things-you-talk-about-when-getting-to-know-someone. They talk about music, movies, family. His or her hand might grace the others. Things are going well...let's skip to the fifth date, perhaps the sixth...

Woman and man decide they like each other--quite a lot! They talk about places they could go! Maybe camping? They make dinner together and share a bottle of wine...or a bar of good quality chocolate.

But wait--It isn't that easy.

The woman feels she has a secret. She does not know when to tell him...She has bipolar disorder. She worries: Should she have told him on the third date, whilst in the movie theater? Is now a good time, while having dinner and smiling across the table?

Example B:

A man living with a chronic mental illness--let's use the example of depression--has found a great job. A full-time job that requires he be at work Monday-Friday, 9-5 p.m.

Although this man has recently recovered from a serious episode of depression and is now stable, he feels it's important to alert his supervisor. To tell him or her that he lives with a mental illness and may need to take time off from time to time.

This is difficult.

I have been in this position and I have withheld the information out of, well, embarrassment. I cannot lie. It's anything but easy to tell your superior something so personal, but in retrospect it would have saved me a lot of heartache. You can only call in sick for so long; migraines do not last months.

When do you tell this person? Do you tell them at all?

The Reality: There is Never a Good Time...

There is just a succession of times, of variables, of options. And none of them are good. None of them are comfortable. Telling someone you live with a chronic mental illness sucks.

But I want to stress that we should not feel shame.

But maybe we do feel shame (it often comes with the territory) but if "one in four" people struggle with a mental illness at some point, the prospective partner, your superior, has probably experienced this as well. Or, they probably know someone who has.

So, how can we approach a complicated situation? The woman starting a new relationship might want to tell her partner sooner rather than later. It saves stress on both sides.

Perhaps this seems cliche, but in my experience if a person is really interested in another, they will take the time to ask questions.

If they aren't comfortable with the illness, move on, someone else will be.

In connection to starting a new job, letting your employer know is on an individual basis. Often, it's too difficult to talk about our personal lives with those we have just met. Fair enough. But be prepared to explain what's going on if you hit a rough patch.

Mental illness does not define us; on the first few dates I would rather talk about what I do in my spare time, not what medication I take!

In summary? We all have "skeletons" in our closet. You decide when you are comfortable explaining your illness.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2012, May 21). When Should I Tell Someone I Have a Mental Illness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 28 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

May, 21 2012 at 9:06 am

Hi Natalie:) I'm in a quandary, do I tell perspective principals I'm bipolar. I've got gaps in my employment record and really think I might tell them I suffer from depression instead of bipolar. My husband has depression also, some of the time away was to take care of him. I also managed to flunk out of a masters degree program, so that's another gap in employment. Maybe I'll just try to get a job in another field. I know I have options, I just don't see where they are yet. Thanks for reading my ramblings, hope this made sense.

December, 2 2013 at 5:06 am

Tough call...
Plus a ex now ) was an alcoholic he picked me up in a cab is no pun.
He drives one as a job!
He knew me as friendly,very,over- chatty,sexy....highly intelligent,very funny,lovely.....
Quiet no makeup,messy hair,no interest in life,interest/obsession w death....
Pushing him away...
Then the manic period...another much younger,guy.....need I say more?
I figured ok,I used to have a Cocaine problem,who am I to judge him?
After the young guy fling the ugly truth all of it not the altered parts to make me look better...
Hard core reality...
Then every weekend ,fights...never ever physical w me...
His drinking increased to the point of I realized he was committing slow suicide....
Plus he was very interested in high class ( ugghh) to him-strippers.....
I felt it was because my meds made my normally skinny even at 52 yrs old body
heavier,he didn't like it..
Plus I really don't think he ever got over the fling or understood mania or depression in the least.
When push came to shove,drunk he offered to score me my DEVIL : COCAINE...
Was horrified.
If someone loves you,they protect you...
That was my limit.
Done deal.
But,it wasn't all bad as in the early days he'd never ever have done that or drank to this level.
At first I blamed my bipolar,after all ,I justified was the mania.
Brought on the fling....
This man is 52: yrs old.
IM responsible FOR myself.
THE reason people BREAKUP is TWO FOLD not only ONE PERSON
MY needs WERENT met.
WITHOUT him....
I KINDA feel LIKE A loser SINGLE.@ 52
BUT must SAY,my stress level is dropped WAY.........
THINK it's JUST CHRISTMAS- TIME approaching.....
It'd really be easier if he continued to stay away from me.......
Though I have weak moments...I think I just want SOMEONE in my life.
I know HES toxic & WRONG for ME.
If only this disease was more accepted...
When manic,I feel like a crackhead
When depressed I feel dead but alive,some days not much in the middle.
Middling days,what I call them,are the best.
Ah so go to post this then brush my teeth,refocus my Twisted BP brain.

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