Research shows that if everyone knew someone with a mental illness, their attitudes toward mental illness would dramatically improve. For that to happen, people with mental illnesses would need to be upfront about it, but "it's still risky business to self-disclose," says Paolo del Vecchio, an author of a major report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

To come to that conclusion, SAMHSA researchers interviewed self-disclosers and reviewed more than 60 books, journal articles and databases relating to the issue. They found that when people inform others of their mental illness, they often fear being ostracized by their family and peers, losing their jobs and imperiling their housing situations.

That said, people who do disclose often experience relief and find that it can improve their work and family relationships, the report found. But it's important for self-disclosers to pick the right time and place for letting people know, the report finds. For most, it's better to start by telling a small group of people you trust, and to only inform employers when it's necessary.

Mental health providers play an important role in helping clients decide whether to disclose their mental illness and under what circumstances it should happen, del Vecchio says.

"Psychologists can be a big benefit to helping clients weigh the pros and cons of self-disclosure," he says.

The report, "Self-disclosure and its impact on individuals who receive mental health services," can be accessed at http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/sma08-4337.

—M. Price