The longer I live with mental health issues (and the more they necessitate my viewing them as a consistent presence in my life, as opposed to a transitory "episode" here or there), the more I find "coming out" to be an important process. There's something both empowering and rather courageous in speaking out (the sexuality comparison is a pretty apt one), but I won't lie, sometimes it makes me nervous, and feels risky.
Like you, I tend to self-disclose in graduated stages, depending on whom I'm talking to, and the context (i.e. I'm more likely to be forthright with someone else who is struggling themselves, and could use the support, as opposed to with folks who may judge/more casual situations). Things like having dealt with depression, having been in therapy, taking meds -- those I have no problem being upfront about in the vast majority of situations. Disclosing that I've been hospitalized, or that I still sometimes struggle with self-injury urges? Not something I'm ever gonna reveal to my mother-in-law, or playgroups, or my employer (unless I ever absolutely had to in order to take time off for treatment, or for HR/health insurance reasons).
Interestingly enough, when I just typed that sentence, my inner censor immediately went, "Shh! That's private, that's dark, the nice people on MDC don't need to know that!" But another part of me thought, Why not? If I keep stigmatizing myself, how am I ever going to get the greater stigmatization addressed? I vacillate between wanting to be excruciatingly upfront (I've toyed with writing a memoir), and wanting to shove the memory of my own difficult times into a locked box somewhere (neither extreme, of course, being particularly healthy or useful).
I will say, too, that I think it's especially important to find support and a safe community in which to "come out" as *parents* who are dealing with the dual stressors of mental illness and caring for small children. I see very little being written by or about this issue, unless it's early postpartum PPD, and there are times when I really feel like an anomaly! There again, it's a fine line between empowerment and risk ... I would love to write about my own experiences, but if I did it in a public fashion, I would also be terrified of the scrutiny that would result. I'm currently researching some social services cases in where former self-injurers were involved in really messy battles to retain their parental rights, so I don't think it's 100% idle paranoia talking!