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Telling Others About Your Panic Disorder

Revealing Your Panic Secret


Updated February 21, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Telling others about your panic disorder may help provide support.

Photo © Microsoft

If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, you may be considering letting other people in your life know about your condition. Many people with panic disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia debate whether it is best to tell others about their condition or to keep it a secret. Known as the "panic secret", some will chose not to tell anyone about their own personal struggles with panic disorder.

There is often a stigma that is associated with having a mental health condition. The many myths about panic disorder have contributed to the misunderstanding of this mental illness. For example, it is not uncommon to blame a person for struggling with a mental health disorder. Many people believe that the symptoms of panic disorder can be controlled. Others label people with anxiety disorders as being "weird" or "neurotic." These harsh judgments can contribute to feelings of shame and loneliness that are often associated with panic disorder.

The many misconceptions about panic disorder and agoraphobia may have prevented you from disclosing your condition to family and friends. However, to help improve your self-esteem and work through your goals, you may want to reveal your panic secret to those that you trust. Social support can be a very valuable part of your recovery process. Living with panic disorder can be less isolating when you have the support of loved ones. Even though it can be difficult to discuss, it can be helpful to talk to friends and family about your condition.

Here are some tips and suggestions for when you decide to tell others about your diagnosis of panic disorder.

Understand Your Diagnosis

Before you can thoroughly talk with others about your diagnosis of panic disorder, you must first understand more about the condition yourself. Get as much information as you can about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for panic disorder. Find resources on panic attacks, including common physical sensations associated with these attacks and strategies for getting through panic attacks.

Additionally, if you have been diagnosed with panic disorder with agoraphobia, it is important to have a clear understanding of this diagnosis. The people you decide to talk to about panic disorder may have a lot of questions for you. You are not required to have all the answers, but knowing more about your condition can help you to better explain your diagnosis and reduce any confusion.

Here are a few articles to help you to get started on understanding panic disorder:

Determine Who You Can Trust

When you have decided to tell others about your panic disorder, it can feel safest to only discuss your condition with those you trust. It is not necessary that you reveal your panic disorder at your workplace or with distant relatives. When you openly talk about your experience with panic disorder, it is important to feel secure and supported by the person you are telling.

To help loved ones understand more about your condition, you can direct family and friends to some further information:

How to Talk About Your Diagnosis

Once you have a better understanding of your condition and you have decided whom you want to tell, it is then time to consider the way in which you want to talk about your panic disorder. A great first step would be to set up a time and place where you can privately talk it over with a friend or family member. Make sure you have enough time, so that you don’t feel rushed.

You may also want to determine beforehand what you are willing to share and what you want to keep to yourself. For example, you may want to discuss your experience with panic attacks, but hold off going into details about the avoidance behaviors you have in relation to agoraphobia. It is not necessary to reveal every aspect of your condition. It can be best to gradually open up about more detailed aspects of your struggle with panic disorder.

Prepare for Their Reactions

It is hoped that when you tell a loved one about your diagnosis of panic disorder, they are open-minded and understanding about your experience. However, there are times when even those that care about you will not offer the support you need. When deciding to tell others about your panic disorder, it is important to also be prepared for others to have poor reactions.

A person may have a negative reaction to your diagnosis for a number of reasons. Keep in mind that there are numerous misconceptions about panic disorder that cloud many people's judgment about your condition and other mental health disorders. Such stigma can prevent your loved ones from being as supportive as you hoped. However, it is no excuse for anyone to try to make you feel weak or ashamed.

Panic disorder is not a sign of personal failure or a reason to feel embarrassed. Consider how much courage it takes to tell others about your condition. If a person cannot understand your experience, try not to take it personally. They are most likely unable to support you due to their own lack of information and understanding. Be prepared with coping skills and other sources of support, so that you will have additional strategies and people to fall back on if someone has a strong negative reaction.

Panic disorder is a treatable condition. Through treatment and support, you can recover from and learn to manage many of the symptoms of panic disorder. Telling others about your condition may be frightening at first. However, building a support network for panic disorder will help you through your recovery process.

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