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Don’t talk about someone’s mental health without their consent

Discussing a person’s private issue without telling them can create trust issues.
Illustration: April Kinney • The Sentry

respect others’ vulnerability

Up until recent years, nobody wanted to discuss mental health. Now, the world is (thankfully) more attuned to treating mental health with the seriousness it deserves. Conversations about mental health struggles have swung from being avoided to being encouraged. 

But now, the pendulum is swinging dangerously from the side of not talking about mental health at all to mental health dominating conversations. Now, someone else’s mental health struggles are tossed about in casual conversations. The seriousness of the topic has been thrown to the wind. 

The mental health of others should only be shared if this person who shares their struggles gives their consent. If they do not give permission to make their struggles dinner table discussions, do not ever under any circumstances talk about someone else’s mental health. Making the serious into the mundane not only breaks trust in a person’s support network, but it can push someone teetering the edge even closer to it. 

Mental health is a vulnerable topic to discuss. To bring up feelings of depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts and actions, the relationship between the parties needs to be held together by threads of trust. People just don’t walk up to a friend of a friend and say, “I have never felt this heavy sadness before.” They go to that person they trust. 

So what happens when that trustworthy person goes up to their friend and discusses this person’s suicidal thoughts to a third party? If the hurting person finds out that their moment of vulnerability and trust has become a talking point in a dinner table discussion, why would they want to go back to this person to share their struggles? 

Those threads of trust begin to snap, one by one, until all that remains is the frayed end of what once was a healthy relationship.  

When someone feels at the end of their rope, they go to their support network. Their friends are the ones who help to tie a knot at the end of the rope and help them to hang on. If that support isn’t there, what’s stopping them from slipping off their rope entirely? 

Now, not every incident sharing of another person’s mental health is out of a place of malice. Most likely, people share with the best of intentions. If a person is in a dark spot, a friend will want to supply as much as help as possible. The intention could be to build the person’s support network, and there is some validity in that. 

But assuming that this is what the struggling person wants can be dangerous. If a person explains that they need help from others, only then should it be shared when they aren’t around. 

This is what it boils down to: respect vulnerability. Respect their struggles. To talk about their mental health struggles, there needs to be trust. Talking leads to getting help. Getting help saves lives. Keep talking about mental health, just make sure that these conversations build trust. 

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