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 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 mired in killer secrecy.



How My Secrecy Manifested

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 of protecting the young. 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 in effect kept a secret even from 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; with my brain chemistry. I was not sure what it was. What I was sure about is that I could fix this on my own. That it should 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.



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 sometimes caused me to suspect that there was something really bad going on with me and everybody knew it but were just mainstreaming me into society.


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 therapy and medication treatments that would lead me on a road to improved health.


This seems like a large price to pay for some secrecy. At the time, though, blinded by sickness, it was tough if not impossible to have this perspective.  



If I Was Still Mired In Secrecy Today, Perhaps I’d Be dead

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 V.P. of Refuat Hanefesh, would still have her mother if it were not for her mother’s secrecy. Shanee inspiringly wrote about her experiences related to the matter and message 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 on 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 disease 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 which will include openness and medical treatments.




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 them what a mental illness actually means and what the signs of it may actually be. Take them to get a yearly checkup with a brain doctor (a psychiatrist) like 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

Please click here to read other pieces pertaining to stigma



Etan Neiman, CPA

Etan Neiman, CPA, Refuat Hanefesh's Director of Operations and previously Editor-in-Chief, grew up in Chicago, Illinois and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Yeshiva University's Sy Syms School of Business. While at Yeshiva, he was editor of the student newspaper's Business Section and President of Active Minds, a national organization committed to decreasing mental illness stigma on college campuses. He currently works in downtown Manhattan as a Senior Accounting Associate for Brand Sonnenschine. Etan has spoken and written extensively about his mental health battles with Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and Depression. He looks forward to joining others on a similar journey to break the harmful stigma-induced silence. Etan can be reached at alexbneiman@refuathanefesh.org.
Etan Neiman, CPA

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