Sharing our own mental health experiences is often discouraged. Sometimes, disclosure may help you connect more deeply with others.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | September 20, 2022 | 2 min read
By Meher Kalkat, medical student, Johns Hopkins Medicine
When a loved one shares their worries or fears with you, a natural tendency is often to also disclose your own misgivings and hardships. Yet, as healthcare professionals, we’re often taught that struggling with mental health is a weakness that could damage future career prospects. In a career where so much emphasis is placed on professionalism, accomplishment, and resilience, how do we build room for vulnerability?
Having conversations around self-disclosure helps combat the stigma that often accompanies mental health concerns. Normalizing not being ok is a powerful step towards acknowledging that clinicians are not superhuman. Each one of us has a unique background and history, including our own challenges in life. Sharing information about your own mental health treatment can help open conversation between colleagues, with the hope of feeling more fully accepted and supported by peers.
Embracing vulnerability may help us connect more deeply with others. In addition, we may find a sense of acceptance and freedom by being open about challenges we’ve faced. For many, this is a key facet to acknowledging and healing from mental health struggles.
Here are a few tips on self-disclosure:
1. Only share what feels comfortable.
You’re not obligated to tell anyone about your mental healthcare or treatment. If someone pressures you to share more than you’re comfortable with, be prepared to excuse yourself to a safe place until you decide how to address this issue.
2. When considering self-disclosure to a patient, ensure that the focus of a patient encounter stays on the patient.
While it can be helpful to recognize commonalities and share your personal experiences, the purpose of the encounter is to work with the patient and address their needs and concerns. Recognize whether self-disclosure serves the patient’s needs or not.
3. Self-disclose in an environment where you feel safe.
This will help you receive support in a moment that may otherwise be intimidating or uncomfortable.
4. It may be helpful to practice what you will share and how ahead of time, to ensure you’re ready.
As one mental health professional explained, “I’ve asked many of my patients what it’s meant for them to know about my history, and there’s one consistent and resounding refrain: HOPE!” The power of hope in transforming lives should never be underestimated.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.