Editorial: Secrecy Kills

As a society, we have an initiative in which we try to remove killers. One way we achieve this is by locking murderers away in prison. Truthfully, though, killers don’t have to be in the form of humans. Cancer is a killer, so we desperately search for a cure. Diabetes kills, so we found a cure. There is one killing agent, however, which society has not yet done much to address. If anything, society encourages the spreading of this killing agent. The agent I am referring to is mental health secrecy.

I would know its deadly effects, as I was once infected with it. Since I was a little kid, I have battled (and thank God now moved past) Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Depression. Those three diseases are enough in themselves to do some serious damage, especially without treatment.

The biggest problem: I was trapped in secrecy.

My Three Stages of Secrecy

From when I got sick (about when I turned ten) until I was about 15, I did not even realize there was something up with me. This is the scariest secrecy of all. In society, we talk so little about mental health as a faulty attempt at protecting the youth. This enables a reality where our youth, such as my younger self, could spend years suffering from mental illness and not even realize anything is up. I simply attributed any weird feelings to reasons such as puberty or being a negative or unfriendly person. The mental illnesses were kept a secret from even myself.

For the following five years (from about when I was fifteen to twenty), I went through my next stage of secrecy. I started to break through a little and realize there is something off with my head; with the way I was thinking and perceiving events. I was not sure what it was. What I was sure about is that I could fix this on my own. That it must be kept a secret. Even if I did feel it helpful or normal to tell someone, what was I going to say?

My final stage of secrecy came after I realized that mental illness was to blame for my years of suffering. This stage only lasted a few months. Ten years of secrecy had done a number on me; I didn’t have much fight left. I told a close friend, then started therapy and medication treatments, and then told some family and more close friends. Finally, I told anybody who would listen by going totally public with my message.

Etan sharing his story and message to a crowd of several hundred students at Yeshiva University

How The Secrecy Tore Me To Pieces

It fostered an intense environment of loneliness, since I was on my own to feel and fix this stuff in my head.

It sometimes caused nearly torturous paranoia and self-doubt of if there was something actually up with me at all.

It reinforced to me that there was some sort of deficiency in the fact that I was experiencing these things. Why does somebody keep a secret unless there is something wrong with telling people?

Finally, it precluded me from getting the proven treatments that would lead me on a road to being healthy.

This seems like a large price to pay for some secrecy. At the time, though, blinded by society’s decision to shield the youth from mental health information, it was tough if not impossible to have that perspective.  

The Price of Secrecy

So many have suffered and in some cases even died due to the mental health secrecy imposed by society’s fanatical stigma. Maybe my friend Shanee Markovitz, who is one of the founders of Refuat Hanefesh, would still have her mother if it were not for her mother’s secrecy. Shanee shared her emotional story in this Forward article.

There are more who have suffered in secrecy. More who have died.


I will not sit idly by while so many submerge themselves in secrecy as the only way they know how to cope with their mental illness. The only way they know how to respond to the stigmatic view society has of mental health. I broke out of my secrecy and reaped the benefits. I plead with you, full out beg you: if you are a secret keeper, please end the secrecy.

From One Secret Breaker To An Aspiring Secret Breaker – Here Are My Tips

I have a suspicion you want to get better, so make the decision: is it worth it to shield yourself from the unknown of breaking the secrecy at the sacrifice of your health? Getting healthier means growing your system of support. It means leaving no doubt in your mind that there is not somehow something wrong with having a mental illness. Of course, you are sharing this illness with those close to you like you would do if you had any disease. Pursuing health means embracing the proven therapy and medication treatments.   

Once you make your decision, tell the person or people you feel will understand best. Don’t necessarily prioritize family first. The most important thing is to put yourself in the best position possible. Abolishing the secrecy doesn’t even have to be via chat with a friend or family. You can discuss it in the Refuat Hanefesh Support Room or write a blog post. Rejecting the secrecy in one of these manners will begin the road to righting your mental health, a road that will include openness and medical treatment.


To society, here is my plea: Recognize that we are not protecting our kids by shunning them from mental health education; we are stripping them of any possible defenses from mental illness. Have the difficult conversation. Explain to your children or students what mental illness actually means and what the signs of one may be. Take them to get a yearly checkup with a brain doctor (a psychiatrist) as you do with teeth doctors, eye doctors, and physical body doctors. It might just save your child’s life.  

Please click here to read Etan Neiman’s other editorials and pieces

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Etan Neiman

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