• mental health;
  • health beliefs;
  • coping;
  • stigma;
  • depression;
  • disclosure;
  • theory generation

Disclosure of minor mental health problems: an exploratory theoretical study

Aim. The aim of this study was to explore people’s experiences, concerns and beliefs about disclosing minor mental health problems by focusing on the ways in which such disclosures are interpreted.

Background. Approximately half of people with mental health problems do not seek help. The decision to consult represents just one aspect of the process of revealing one’s illness to others. People with mental health problems are known to be reluctant to reveal the existence of those problems through fear of how others might then view them.

Design. A qualitative approach was employed. In-depth interviews were carried out with 47 users and nonusers of community mental health services. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed and analysed.

Results. The data suggest that when people reveal minor mental health problems others interpret these in relation to a number of perceived contextual factors. These include perceptions of the severity and duration of any possible causes, the inner ‘strength’ of the person, the expected ability of the person to either solve or suppress the experience, and the form and context of the expression itself. The data presented included individuals who were seeking help for relatively ‘minor’ mental health problems (primarily depression and anxiety) and individuals who had no current mental health problems but routinely managed expressions of their own emotions. Throughout the data there appeared to be no distinct difference between these two groups other than one of the severity of psychological experience.

Conclusion. The key elements involved in the interpretation of people’s expressions of sadness were essentially the same as those involved in the interpretation of expressions of depression. An appreciation of these contextual factors influencing the interpretation and disclosure of minor mental health problems may aid the development of more person-centred mental health services and inform the content of health education in the mental health field.