One of the most common questions I am asked by my readers is “Should I tell ______________ that I have Borderline Personality Disorder?” The blank is usually filled in with things like: my new boyfriend/girlfriend, my boss, my co-workers, people at my new school or church, and the like.
Disclosing your mental health diagnosis is a very personal decision, and each and every time you are faced with it, the circumstances are incredibly unique, from the relationship you have with the other person to the potential benefits and troubles that could come from the disclosure.
When it comes to new relationships, I err on the side of practicing strong boundaries. This is not something that I had the ability to do in the past. I felt that I had very little control over how much I told people — even people I’d just met at a bus stop. (I literally remember telling one woman so much about me by the time our bus arrived that I felt sick with regret.) I also remember my DBT therapist recommending that, especially in the context of a new potential partner, it’s important that the nature of disclosure grow as the relationship does and that it be reciprocal.
For example, if your new date just told you that he or she really loves romantic comedies, replying with “Me too — oh, and I have Borderline Personality Disorder” is obviously inappropriate. But, if you get to a point where you are both discussing more emotionally deep topics, and it feels like disclosing would be helpful to the building of the relationship and for your new partner to understand where you are coming from, then it may be something to consider. At some point, in the natural course of developing a deep relationship, I believe that something like this will begin to reveal itself and will come for discussion at some point naturally, in due time. You must decide, for yourself, what feels comfortable, right, and safe. No one else can know this or make this decision for you.
When it comes to the workplace, most of us aren’t out there doing mental health advocacy work where our diagnosis is part of our credentials. For example, I have come across people like Sue Sibbald in the UK who has advocated for her own care with regards to BPD to the point where it gained the attention of local community services, and she eventually carved out a full-time job for herself revolving around BPD and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). In this situation, the disclosure was natural, appropriate, and came before acquiring the job. My situation is similar, in that this blog has led to an online psychoeducational company called DBT Path, where I co-facilitate online Dialectical Behavior Therapy groups with licensed therapist Alicia Paz. (DBT is what helped me overcome BPD.)
For most people, this is not the case. Many of us work in offices, in professional careers, wait tables, tutor children. In these situations, what would be the value of disclosing that you have BPD? More than once I disclosed to an employer that I was mentally ill (before I knew my BPD diagnosis — I already had the aresenal of PTSD, OCD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder to disclose), and in my own personal experience, in every case, I regretted it.
In nearly every instance, I ended up revealing my mental health issues in a moment of panic and insecurity, and I believe it setup situations where I was judged or treated differently due to my disclosure. I realize that this is not the case for everyone. I’ve also spoken with a number of people who have said that sharing with their boss or co-workers that they have mental illness has created a closer bond and fostered a sense of truly being cared about in the workplace. So, just like disclosing your diagnosis in personal relationships, the choice of whether to disclose in the workplace is also highly individual and personal. There is much to consider, and only you can make the choice as to what is right for you in the long run.
How have you handled this in the past? How might you handle disclosure of your mental health issues in the future?
Here are some books I’ve found helpful with this issue:
DBT Studies (Online Course) that can be helpful:
Thank you for reading.