Oversharing, Excessive Openness About Mental Health Can Cause Stigmatization

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting discussion with my parents, both of whom grew up during the 1980s and ’90s. I was telling them about a conversation I had with some people at a party around what kind of mental health medications we were on. When I told my parents this, they were shocked. They told me that when they were my age, discussing mental health in such a public space was considered taboo. At first glance, one could easily imagine that the era of keeping quiet about mental health is worse in every way than the openness with which we treat the subject now. However, extremes in the other direction — an era of too much radically open discussion — can have drawbacks as well. 

Discussing mental health with people whose boundaries you are familiar with can be beneficial. However, oversharing to people who did not consent to hearing the details of your mental illness can become problematic. Not everyone is comfortable hearing about potentially triggering experiences, especially in spaces that are not intentionally focused on mental health. There is a difference between discussing a bad day and mentioning specific details of self-harm or suicidal ideation. This does not mean that someone who is feeling like a danger to themselves should not reach out. Rather than reach out to a classmate, though, this is information best communicated with a loved one or licensed professional. 

Something important for us to consider is that if only the negative side of mental health is discussed, nobody will ever talk about the positive steps they have taken. It is much less common to hear college students discussing their methods of healing and the good experiences they have had. By hearing about other people’s successes with their mental health, students might feel like they can get better, too, one small step at a time.

I do understand that some people’s way of empathizing is to commiserate and share their own experiences. However, unless you explicitly know that the person you are speaking to is comfortable with that, it can often make the person feel worse. Hearing, “Oh, that’s nothing,” in response to a painful experience can make someone feel like they are just being dramatic in relating their suffering. On the other hand, it is important to recognize the benefit of a more open culture surrounding mental health: sharing information about being medicated can normalize a common and often unavoidable experience. I remember watching certain crime TV shows from the early 2000s that treated individuals taking medication for mental illness as lunatics, one missed dose away from snapping. Even though I live in a time when medication is more freely spoken about, when I rewatch these shows, I can’t help but slightly feel like I am some sort of monster, just because of my imperfect mental health that requires treatment. Hearing people talk so openly about their meds nowadays helps counteract this feeling. However, there is a difference between being open about medication and sharing experiences in spaces where that may be harmful. Simply saying that one is currently taking certain mental health medication normalizes needing extra support to function. However, when discussing the dosage or side effects of these drugs, be aware of who you’re speaking to. 

I am grateful to grow up as a member of a generation that practices so much transparency in regard to mental health. However, I do believe that there is a limit to this openness, and that, perhaps, we should take a cue from the situational awareness of previous generations, and apply that awareness to our own interactions.