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Anxiety: Who to tell, how to tell?

By Stacey (ADAVIC Volunteer)

22nd September 2014

Deciding to tell the people in your life that you suffer from anxiety can be a daunting and sometimes life changing-experience. Why is this choice so intimidating to so many? Why is it hard to decide if confiding in people about suffering from anxiety will be a good or a bad thing?
The simplest answer is that people fear what they do not understand and what they do not know. Not only do you, as the sufferer of anxiety, fear the possible negative reactions of the people close to you, but the people close to you do not understand what anxiety really is.
Unfortunately, even as mental health and anxiety have been given more awareness over the last few years, the general public are still widely unaware of what metal health and the word ‘anxiety’ truly mean. There is still a negative stigma associated with all facets of mental health which is what prevents people from seeking help and reaching out to loved ones. Most cases of anxiety disorder go undiagnosed due to people fearing the negative reactions of;

  • Their GP: Will he/she just think I’m faking it?
  • Their family: Will they be disappointed in me for not being able to just snap out of it?
  • Their friends: Will they not want to hang out with me anymore?
  • Their employer: Will I get fired or demoted or seen as unfit to work?
  • Work colleagues: Will they think I’m just trying to get extensions or more annual leave?

While these concerns and fears are common, they are mostly unwarranted. Most people are pleasantly surprised to find out that after revealing their struggles they are not met with stigma or judgment, but with compassion and support from the people close to them.

Deciding who to tell

The decision about telling people is not easy, and the factors associated with making it vary according to who the target audience is. As listed above, there are different people in our lives, all of whom play a different role. Some things to consider when evaluating who to tell;

GP: Will they provide me with the support and information that I need? Have they usually been understanding and patient with me in the past? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then confiding in your doctor should be a beneficial and positive experience for you. If the answer is no, you should consider finding a doctor that you feel comfortable confiding in.

Family: Are your family generally supportive of you? Do you really believe that they would judge you, or would they try to understand what you are going through? If you have a supportive family, or even just one or two family members that you are close to that you have been able to depend on for support in the past, telling them would be beneficial and they would most likely help you. If you are not close to your family it is best to use your own judgement to consider whether telling them would be helpful.

Friends: Would your friends ditch you because you are going through a hard time? Have they reacted negatively in the past or positively? Do they feel comfortable revealing personal information to you? Odds are your friends are your friends for a reason. They have supported you in the past as you have supported them. Confiding in close friends is often the hardest but most rewarding relationship to draw support from.

Is your anxiety affecting your work? What are your workplace policies around mental health and confidentiality? Would your employer be able to assist you? If you feel as though your anxiety is affecting your standard of work then telling your employer can be advantageous for you, especially if you feel as though your employer would be understanding and willing to make accommodations for your condition.

Work colleagues: Would they be supportive? Could I confide in one or two that I trust? Would there be negative repercussions? People who work closely with you can sometimes be as supportive as your friends, and it may be useful to have their support.

Deciding how and what to tell them
After considering and evaluating who it would be most beneficial to tell, the next question becomes, how and what do you tell them? Some helpful tips and strategies for each target audience are;
GP: Your doctor is the person you trust to guide and support you in all issues relating to your mental and physical health. Telling them what you have been experiencing can be as simple as running through the symptoms you feel each day and asking them to then provide you with either a mental health care plan or some other alternative options that they believe will help you. If you feel writing things down before your appointment will make it easier then you can do that.
Family/friends: Telling close family members and friends can be difficult. Most people find preparing is easier. This can include writing down what you want them to know, how you think they will react, preparing for both positive and negative reactions, providing some printed out information that they can take away with them and writing down exactly what you are looking for from them. Tell these people what it is you want from them, don’t leave them guessing. If you are telling them because you just want them to understand, say that. If you are telling them because you need their help and support, say that. And outline what it is they can do to provide this support to you.
Employer/work colleagues: It is important to consider exactly what it is you wish to tell your employer and/or work colleagues, again, writing it down can be helpful. It may not be necessary to go into as much detail with this group of people as you would with close family/friends. It may be enough to just tell them that you experience some anxiety and at times you will need support around this issue. Being mindful of the company’s confidentiality policies is also important so research them first as you may only want your    employer to know and not your work colleagues.
It is important to remember that you do not have to tell every person in this list, it is a completely personal and individual decision based on who you believe will offer you the support and understanding that you require. This article’s focus was to help guide you in the decision making process by providing you with questions to consider and strategies to use. People will not know you are suffering if you never tell them.

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