When you’re struggling and don’t have the energy to do everything that is expected, it can be difficult to educate someone else about your depression. At Highland Hospital in Charleston, West Virginia, we don’t believe you owe an explanation to everyone you meet; however, there might be times when it would be helpful for certain people to know what you’re experiencing.
How to Describe Depression
It can be challenging to explain an internal experience to someone who has never shared it. It may be easier to borrow the words of other people with depression or to express yourself in writing or art than to try to express your feelings verbally.
Who Do You Want to Tell?
It can be helpful to consider who the person is, what you want them to know, and why they need to know it. This may also make it easier for you to give them ideas for how to best support you.
- Your Parent – Depression is more common in people with a blood relative who also has depression. It is possible that one or both of your parents also have depression or have seen the condition in other family members. Even so, they may not have been fully educated or understand how it impacts you specifically. Stigma may have prevented meaningful dialogue about mental health in the past.
- Your Sibling – Because siblings usually share genetics, you may wish to bring your diagnosis to their attention so they can be more aware of their own risks. You may also find that your brother or sister has already been diagnosed but was not sure how to share. They may feel relief to know that they are not alone.
- Your Significant Other – Your romantic partner is someone who would ideally understand and support you through difficulties. They may need help to recognize what you’re experiencing and how to best support you, especially if they don’t have lived experience with depression. They may also be the person best positioned to recognize if your symptoms become life threatening.
- Your Boss – On the one hand, many people fear that if they talk to their boss about their mental health, they will seem less capable or reliable. They may even fear that their boss will use it as a reason to keep them from advancing. On the other hand, it can be helpful for your employer to know what you are experiencing in order to provide you with reasonable accommodations. They may also know about benefits that your company offers for mental health.
- A Friend – Everyone needs people they can talk to, whether or not they have depression. For those of us with a depression diagnosis, it might even be more important to feel heard, understood, and valued in the darkest moments. Having a strong support system that extends beyond your family and significant other can make it easier to find the encouragement you need and deserve.
- Your Child – As with your parents and siblings, you probably share genetics with your child, so they may benefit from understanding depression and how to be mindful of their own mental health. Parents are also their child’s first teachers, so there is an opportunity to model how to utilize your support system and coping skills and to teach your child that mental illness is not something to regard with shame. A key to this discussion is timing. It is better to have this discussion after you have gotten treatment, so that you can tell your child what you are doing to stay healthy. Also, your treatment team may be able to offer guidance on age-appropriate information to share with your child.
How Can They Help?
Once you know who you want to talk to about your diagnosis and why, it may also be helpful to consider how they can support you and then communicate this clearly:
- Just being aware – This is particularly likely to apply to your children and people who aren’t especially close to you. They can benefit from knowing what is going on even if they can’t help.
- Increasing their knowledge – People with depression sometimes don’t feel understood. Loved ones can read up on depression or join an organization like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which offers training for loved ones of people who struggle with mental health.
- Helping you tell someone else – If there is someone you are worried about telling, it could be helpful to have a support person there to make the conversation easier.
- Connecting to resources – Someone could help you find a therapist, medication manager, support group, or other needed resource.
- Recognizing signs of worsening symptoms – People with depression may not always recognize the signs that their condition is getting worse or may struggle to reach out for help when they do see concerning indications. If someone knows you well, it may be a good idea to give them permission to check in about your mental health.
- Reaching out for emergency services – Not everyone with depression experiences life-threatening symptoms, but it can be a good idea to discuss what this would look like for you and how you would want it handled. You can sign a release for your professional supports to speak to one or more of your family members or friends, provide your designated loved ones with contact information for your treatment team, and even write out a plan for where you would prefer inpatient treatment to occur and how you would want matters at home to be handled if you had to spend time in the hospital.
At Highland Hospital, we treat people with depression every day. We know the value of having a support system that understands what you’re experiencing, and we can help to strengthen yours.