“If someone asks you not to share [a secret], then you shouldn’t share it because that person has put trust in you for a reason,” says our school counselor, Vera den Otter. “If you break that trust, you break the friendship.” 

About a month ago, I sent out a survey to all of secondary, where students could anonymously share a secret. I wanted to find out the different types of secrets people keep and how those secrets impact them.

Some of Our Peers’ Confessions: 

“I’m afraid to tell someone I have a crush on them.” 

“[My biggest regret is] talking about my friend behind their back.” 

“My biggest regret? Huh, let’s see. I think it was when I didn’t tell my crush that I liked them.” 

“Something that I’m afraid to tell people is being depressed and that I’m lesbian.” 

“My mom is really strict so if I want to please her and be on good terms with her I have to be a good student and get high grades which is really hard for me. I swear I look half dead most of the time. If I get a smaller grade than she wants me to, it’s kind of the end of the world literally. She’s also kind of too protective and it’s hard to have new friends because she has all these unrealistic expectations about them and their parents which really annoys me. What I hate about her is the fact that she assumes things even if she has no real proof for it and believes everything that she randomly hears or pleases her. So in conclusion, I don’t think we have the best relationship but she does because I pretend to be ok with everything. And as for my dad, well he’s dead.” 

“I just wish I didn’t exist lmao; everything is so painful. Or maybe I should just fix my sleep schedule…” 

“I wanna say that I’m not ok when people ask if I’m ok, but I just don’t want to worry them cause I know they’re dealing with worse.” 

“Maybe it’s not really a confession, but I haven’t told many people this, and it’s something I’m a little afraid to tell people. I am asexual, and while it may not seem like a big deal to some people, talking about this out loud is a big deal for me, especially after the long journey I went through to come to this conclusion (and I’m still not 100% sure about myself!). I want anyone dealing with something similar to know that discovering yourself and your sexuality is extremely difficult, and it can take a huge toll on your wellbeing when you feel like you have no idea who you are, but you’re certainly not alone. In the end, embracing who you really are is such a wonderful feeling, and I am so happy for anyone that has gone through this endeavour, because it really is a long and painful process. Anyway, I just wanted to talk about how challenging it is to discover your identity, and I hope there are other people out there that feel the same way.” 

A Look at the Number of Responses

When I sent out the form, I specifically made sure to mention that the survey was completely anonymous and that I was not collecting any emails. Despite this, people were still reluctant to respond; out of approximately 500 secondary students, less than 20 wrote a confession. That’s only four secrets per 100 students! 

People have shown to feel more comfortable sharing things anonymously— even more so on online platforms. 

AISB Grade 8 & 9 Counselor Vera den Otter says that “a part of that is vulnerability taken away because whoever is going to respond to what you said doesn’t know who you are and won’t see your response. It might offer a level of protection.” 

This was not the case with my survey.

Michael Slepian, a social psychologist and associate professor at Columbia Business School who studies the psychology of secrets, has stated that he and his colleagues have identified 38 categories of secrets that people keep. 

According to him, “About 97% of people have a secret in at least one of those categories and the average person is currently keeping secrets in 13 of those categories.” 

It seems the lack of responses can’t be due to a lack of secrets…so what could be the reason for such hesitance? 

Why Do People Keep Secrets ?

There is a variety of reasons why a person will keep a secret. It could be due to feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, or fear of ruining a relationship with someone special. If the secret is about a crime that was committed, there can be even more serious consequences if it were to be shared.

A lot of the confessions students wrote had to do with sexuality, depression, stress, and regrets. These are all deep topics that have the potential to influence relationships between people and sometimes not for the better. 

AISB’s DP Psychology Teacher Tyson Lazzaro says that “If a student’s life choices, or gender or sexual identity could threaten their emotional or physical safety, then of course they keep secrets as a protective measure.” 

He mentions that although secrets can be “relatively innocent or innocuous,” a person may have to keep secrets because it’s the only way for them to stay safe “from people in their lives who would otherwise be caretakers.”

Mr. Lazzaro states, “This could indicate some areas in the system (family, school or otherwise) where there is misunderstanding or lack of compassion and understanding for what kids and humans in general go through.” 

People in the LGBTQ+ community and/or people struggling with mental health are not always going to receive positive reactions or support when coming out about their feelings to friends and family. This is why it is important that students are able to feel safe in our school community if they are unable to at home.

Keeping secrets isn’t beneficial to mental health. It can cause stress, anxiety, depression, and overall lowers mental health. If the person associates a secret with guilt or shame, they are more likely to have repetitive or even persistent thoughts about it. As a result, people may start using unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol, tobacco or drug use.

A Safe Community at AISB 

Now here comes the big question: how should we deal with the pressure of a secret on our shoulders? 

Well, it really depends on the situation and the nature of the secret. 

“Never keep a secret if someone might be in danger of harm by someone else or by themselves,” Ms. Vera strongly urges. “Even if they are a good friend. You never want to have regrets afterwards for thinking ‘Oh, I thought it was minor’ or ‘They said they would never really do something’ but then they do.” 

The AISB Child Protection Policy states that every child at our school should “have at least one trusted adult that they can confide in,” and that the school will “protect the confidentiality of individuals involved in an incident and maintain secure documentation of reports.”

These policies are in place so that the students at the school can be in an environment they know they can reach out to and receive support whenever they need it. I just hope everyone reading this feels like they have someone to confide in.

Please, if you are keeping secrets related to mental illness or self harm, please talk to a counselor or a trusted adult who can listen and work to help.