How to Share Your Mental Health Story
Hearing stories directly from those who are living with a mental health diagnosis -- those experiencing the actual symptoms, navigating treatment, barriers and resources -- has brought a wealth of understanding, knowledge and compassion to discussions around mental health. Stories of personal lived experience provide hope to others that living a meaningful, values-driven life is achievable while navigating what may be a life-long diagnosis.
If the thought of sharing your experiences with mental health treatment -- or even writing about your experience -- has been on your mind, you may have a lot of questions. We are here to help guide the way and make the process a little less intimidating.
Should you talk about your mental health?
How do you decide if sharing your mental health story is right for you? You may want to ask yourself: Will sharing my story add value to my mental health journey? If you answered “yes,” would this decision be supported by your therapist or support people?
As you’re contemplating this next step, we want to share the experiences of two of our recovery ambassador council members as they talk about sharing their own stories.
“I feel like I have been telling my story since the car accident happened when I was 12 years old. Everyone, including strangers, always asks about my large visible scars so I am really used to telling my story. For me it wasn't if I would share my story, it was more about me finding a platform that wants to hear my story and the possibility that it could help someone.” – Gloria, Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center alum
“It was near the end of my program with ERC that I knew that I wanted to open [my business]. The pain that I felt from the loss of my brother was intense. I took that pain and turned it into a positive power source because I didn’t want anyone to feel alone, and that was when I decided to begin my healing journey. For me, sharing my story created the confidence and allowed healing.” – Dave, Eating Recovery Center alum
What should you say about your mental health?
Whether or not you choose to talk with others about your experience, you may want to start by writing some ideas down. Writing about your mental health journey will take brainstorming and preparation. Here are some prompts to get you started.
- Where and when did your mental health journey start? What happened along the way? At each stage of your journey, how did it make you feel?
- What happened to help you decide to get treatment? Why was treatment important and what benefits have you experienced?
- Which supports helped you the most as you transitioned in and out of treatment or levels of care?
- What is the takeaway that you want to give your audience? Infuse your story with what makes it uniquely yours: your interests, your passions, your experiences.
ERC alum Kelli provides these tips and encouragement for anyone looking to share their story:
“Have someone help you write out your story, and talk about what parts you want to share and what parts you don’t want to. It is then helpful to organize your story into an outline. Start with small audiences, and have someone there with you that you trust and you can feel support from while you are sharing. One safe way to begin sharing your story is to write parts of your story before you are comfortable sharing verbally and face to face. Don’t try to memorize your story that you want to speak about. Focus on three or four points you want to make sure you include. This can really help decrease your anxiety about trying to remember what you want to say. Also, it’s more than fine to have a card you reference to remember your most important points.”
What you may not want to share
While aiming to be authentic, you may feel tempted to share details that are a testament to your journey and all that you have overcome. However, some details could be unhelpful or even triggering to others.
Suicide and self-harm still carry stigma and shame for many, and there has been a revolution in how we talk about them. When discussing suicidal thoughts or attempts and self-harm, it is best practice to not provide specific details around these experiences. We encourage you to use words like “attempt/attempted” or “completed/died by suicide” and to avoid “successful suicide” or “committed suicide.” If you have experienced an eating disorder, avoid giving specific numbers, such as amounts of food, duration of exercise, calories or body weight, or specific details around eating disorder behaviors.
Your story is unique and valuable, and everyone’s mental health treatment journey looks a little different. When sharing your experiences, use “I” statements, such as “what I found helpful was ___” or “for me, I needed to ____.” Feel empowered to share what helped and worked for you, but do not give clinical recommendations or advice. Instead, refer people back to their own therapist or treatment team for guidance on navigating their treatment plan and next steps. If they need referrals for outpatient treatment, please direct them to [email protected].
More ways to talk about your mental health
- Boundaries are important. Think about which topics or details are off-limits and you don’t want to discuss. If you are speaking at an event and someone asks you a question that makes you uncomfortable, you don’t need to answer it. You can say, “I don’t think answering that will be helpful” or “I think I’ve shared enough on that topic.” Your privacy and safety are important, so do not provide your personal contact information.
- Find meaningful ways and rituals to take care of yourself. While sharing your story can be incredibly rewarding and empowering, it can also bring about a tangle of other emotions: anxiety, lingering shame, discomfort and “vulnerability hangover,” to name a few. You can include self-care activities or spiritual practices, and prioritize sleep before and after. ERC alum Dave takes care of himself this way: “I have my support team on speed dial or with me so that if it gets rough, we create an environment where I can go and check in with myself. But also, after a speaking engagement is done, I go home or to the hotel and take a hot shower to decompress and begin breathing techniques.”
- You can always say no. ERC alum Kelli encourages you to “always keep in mind that you are allowed to say yes or no to speaking opportunities. I often thought I needed to speak at every opportunity that was offered to me. It’s important to know how much speaking is healthy for you. I needed help from people around me to learn to say no and not feel guilty about saying no. Remember why it is you want to share your story, and it is more than okay to take an extended break from sharing your story with others.”
- Remember your main message: Living a values-driven life is possible -- and you are worth it!
If you are an ERC Pathlight alum and are interested in sharing your story, we’d be happy to chat with you. Please send an email to [email protected] and your alumni & community outreach liaison will be in touch.
- How to Share Your Eating Disorder Recovery Story
- Healing Childhood Trauma
- A Mindfulness Exercise to Reduce Perfectionism
*Note: This content is reflective of our advocates’ lived experiences. It is intended for informational purposes only. These pieces do not provide medical advice, nor are they substitutes for professional medical diagnosis or treatment.