The Difference Between Helping Others and Identifying as Mentally Ill

moana with te fiti
credit: Disney

“They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are”

-Disney’s Moana

Every time I listen to the Moana soundtrack and get to this part near the end it resonates with me. This is because it always makes me think of my journey recovering from mental illness. I believe most people go through a series of stages from diagnosis to recovery. First, we may reject the original diagnosis. We don’t want to be labeled as mentally ill. For others, the diagnosis is a relief. It means what we’ve been feeling has a name; we’re not alone. The latter is how it was for me when I was diagnosed with OCD, the former when I was later diagnosed with BPD.

Still, as a fierce mental health advocate for several years, diagnoses aside, being mentally ill can become a part of you. You think about it constantly, write about it, talk about it to friends and strangers, take psychology classes, consider a career in mental health, have friends with the same mental illness. I’m not saying these things are bad, but I think there is a tipping point.

There comes a point in your recovery where you will have to choose, “Will I keep this identity of mentally ill or let it go?” I’m right at that point. The problem is, after years of battling a mental illness it can be hard to know who you are besides that. It has consumed your life, so it can be scary to feel like you are losing a large part of your identity. When I question this, I think back to Moana. “This is not who you are. You know who you are.” I’m a dancer, a reader, a scientist, a chocolate lover.

Now I’m not saying I will stop being a mental health advocate as I continue to recover. I will absolutely still write about it, talk about it, consider a career in mental health, and so much more. Advocacy is part of who am I. There is a subtle difference though between helping others and identifying as mentally ill. In order to continue to make strides in my recovery I have to be cautious of that difference.

People who have been through the difficulties of mental illness and made it out on the other side are some of the strongest people there are. They have so much potential to help others by sharing their stories. And they should if they’re comfortable. Just make sure you develop other parts of your identity as well, keep the focus on helping others rather than being sick, and continue to strive for your own recovery. “You know who you are.”



  1. This resonates so much with me! Some time back I had to decide whether I wish to turn my back on my whole episode with MDD or do I wish to stay near it and help some people if I can. I figured I should have a compromise between helping and developing other parts of me at the same time. It won’t be easy but when someone tells you how much better they feel because of you, it surely seems worth it. Glad to have you by my side in this battle against mental illnesses 🙂 -KoS

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Love this Morgan! So insightful. I recovered years ago from panic disorder but know I’m not totally cured. But for the most part, I rarely think about having a panic attack. So as a mental health advocate, I feel like I can separate myself from the work I do to advocate. There’s much more to me than panic or even mental health. I guess I could say I have a healthy balance. Hope this makes sense… you got me thinking!

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