To Tell or Not to Tell: Factors in Self-Disclosing Mental Illness in Our Everyday Relationships




Robinson, Nicole Marie

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Kreps (2001) notes an interpersonal dimension to health where there are relational influences to health outcomes. These interactions are further complicated by culture, as various cultures have differing cultural perceptions about mental illness. These perceptions ultimately affect how one communicates (Dutta & Basu, 2008). This study combines Communication Privacy Management Theory (Petronio & Dunham, 2008) which provides a foundation for how people manage and share information, along with Orbe’s (1998) Co-Cultural Theory which shows how positions of power between dominant and marginalized group members affect communication practices, to explore co-cultural differences in self-disclosure of mental illness. In this study, 314 participants who were either disclosers of a mental health diagnosis or recipients of a mental health diagnosis took part in a web-based survey on communicating mental health. Results showed that regardless of co-cultural status, both White and non-White disclosers shared their diagnosis either through direct (straight-forward) communication or by explaining their diagnosis or treatment. Recipients also found out through prior knowledge or observation (either by observing the discloser’s behavior or because they were told by someone else). White and non-White participants also listed similar reasons for disclosing, and similar responses by recipients. However, while ethnicity or co-cultural status did not play a role in how one decided to tell, there were significant differences between Whites and non-Whites on ethnic effects on choosing to self-disclose and recipient responses to that disclosure. In this instance, non-Whites were more likely than their White counterparts to note that their ethnicity played a role in choosing to disclose or in how they reacted to the disclosure. They cited cultural customs and beliefs as reasons for why they felt ethnicity affected disclosure. Thus, it is implied that cocultural status does in fact play a role in self-disclosure of a mental illness, and that the stigma of mental illness among various cultural groups is still present.



Mental illness, Culture, Mental Health, Self-Disclosure