How much should you disclose?

Last Updated: 27 Oct 2020

How much you choose to disclose depends on your individual circumstances, but just as importantly, it depends on who you are, what you believe, and where you want to go.

A few years ago, I took a leap. After nearly a decade working as a full-time writer, I applied for a position as a creative writing professor. It was my first time seeking traditional employment since the publication of my memoir, Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life. That nonfiction title listed on my CV (not to mention the most rudimentary Google search) revealed my diagnosis to the hiring committee right away. So while I didn’t have the option of deciding whether to disclose my bipolar disorder on my application, I did have the option of deciding how much to disclose.

I knew from the outset that I wasn’t a conventional candidate. I didn’t have the degrees generally required to teach creative writing at the university level (an MFA or a PhD), and most of my teaching experience was inside of psychiatric facilities, not universities. But I applied anyway, sharing several details on my application that most career counselors would highly discourage. Specifically, I explained how my tribulations as a patient made it impossible for me to expect less from my students because of any seemingly unconventional or challenging personal backgrounds. Certainly, I don’t encourage everyone to relate the particulars of their psychiatric records on employment applications, but in my case, sharing these details allowed me to frame my mental health history as an asset, not a liability—and it worked. Both despite and because of my nontraditional personal and professional history, I got the job.

As an artist and activist who aims to combat ignorance and discrimination, being unusually open about my mental health status makes sense for me. But what about my friend who works at a nonprofit to fight poverty? Or another friend who works at a dental office to combat tooth decay? Or another friend who teaches kids to swim to prevent drownings?

All four of us have bipolar disorder, but we don’t all need to reveal the same amount about our experience with it in order to live impactful and fulfilling lives. We’ve made diverse decisions regarding how much we disclose: I’ve divulged almost everything to everyone; the nonprofit leader has revealed his entire psychiatric history to a handful of folks, and less to others; the dentist has shared just enough with those closest to her to enable them to spot mania and depression when she can’t, and next to nothing to everyone else; and the swimming instructor has disclosed very little to very few with the exception of her partner, who knows everything.

Although we’ve all made different choices around how much we reveal, all of us have also managed to thrive. Partly this is because, for all our differences, we share one thing in common aside from a mutual medical diagnosis. Each of us has chosen to tell at least one other person about our diagnosis: someone who knows and loves us—and someone who also knows enough about our unique triggers and symptoms to notice when our moods get out of hand, someone to hold us accountable, someone to encourage us to apply effective coping strategies, and someone to get us help if we need it but fail to notice on our own.

One person may not seem like a lot, especially coming from someone who has effectively disclosed her mental health status to the entire world. But trust me and everyone else I know who is living and flourishing with this condition: one person can make all the difference.

Even with the progress we’ve made as a society on the stigma front, deciding how much to reveal about your bipolar disorder can still be a minefield. Share too much and you could be putting your safety or livelihood on the line; share too little and you may not get the support and treatment you need. Either blunder could cost you enormously, so this is no trivial matter.

Of course, how much you choose to disclose depends on your individual circumstances, but just as importantly, it depends on who you are, what you believe, and where you want to go. These three small, deceptively simple questions are fundamental to discovering our unique purpose on this planet, yet far too often, we overlook them. So consider this column your invitation to slow down, zoom out, and ask yourself these questions—because you can’t make any good decisions without knowing your intentions.

Printed as “Flight of Ideas: How Much Should You Disclose,” Spring 2020

About the author
Melody Moezzi, an award-winning author and visiting professor of creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, is also an activist, attorney, and keynote speaker. Her most recent book, The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life, joins her earlier works: the critically acclaimed Haldol and Hyacinths and War on Error, which earned her a Georgia Author of the Year Award and a Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Honorable Mention. In addition to her Flight of Ideas column for bp Magazine, Moezzi’s writing has appeared in many outlets, including Ms. magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC News, the Guardian, HuffPost, Al Arabiya, and the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine. She has also appeared on numerous radio and television programs, including CNN, BBC, NPR, PBS, PRI, and more. Moezzi is a graduate of Wesleyan University, the Emory University School of Law, and the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. She divides her time between Cambridge, MA, and Wilmington, NC, with her husband, Matthew, and their ungrateful cats, Keshmesh and Nazanin. For more information, please visit and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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