How to Explain Depression to the Ones You Love Most
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How to Explain Depression to the Ones You Love Most

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Depression looks different on everyone. It can be very hard to spot if a loved one hasn’t told you they’re feeling depressed. For some, it can look like exhaustion or social withdrawal. Communicating to your loved ones about your depression is an important way to gain their empathy and support.

Of course, you get to choose whom you open up to and when. However, mental health conditions can be hard to describe when you’re having these conversations for the first time. This article will provide some insights on how to describe what you’re dealing with and let your loved ones know how to support you.

How can I explain my depression to loved ones who might not understand?

Depression is much more complex than it might seem on the surface. It can be a category of symptoms or a distinct condition with a specific pattern. You may experience depressive episodes if you have a diagnosis like bipolar disorder or PTSD, or the onset may come as an aspect of complicated grief. It may come up at different times of the year, as in seasonal affective disorder

Help them understand what you’re feeling 

While you understand that depression goes far beyond feelings of sadness, your loved ones may not. Depression can cause physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms. For example, your energy level may change during a depressive episode as well as your eating and sleeping habits. Irritability and social withdrawal can both cause problems in relationships.

You can help your closest family and friends understand what your depression symptoms feel like by describing the types of symptoms you have and using figurative language. For instance, you might say, “When I’m feeling depressed, all my negative thoughts seem to pile up. I can decide to ‘sort’ through my thoughts like laundry or try to push them down. Either way, they still drain my time and energy.” 

It may help to talk about times when your thoughts and feelings don’t match up. You may know you’ll feel better after you get up and go for a run. But taking the steps to change and get out the door is a different story. Or you may know deep down that your loved ones care for you. But depression can still convince you that you’re a burden. What does it feel like to eat even when you have no appetite? What’s going through your mind when you don’t feel like doing the things you usually love to do?

Help them understand the scope or the scale of your depression 

Until you describe it to them, your loved ones won’t know exactly how much your depression impacts you or what parts of your life are affected. How long has this been a part of your life? How much of your day or week do you spend feeling depressed? What activities are the hardest when you’re feeling down? 

You may want to offer some reassurance that you aren’t in danger. Or the opposite may be true: Maybe your friends and family are taking things too lightly. When you can get on the same page about your depression, the people who love you can respect your feelings and provide support that’s truly helpful.

Help them understand what makes your depression better or worse 

It can be hard to access the coping skills you’ve developed when you really need them. And when you’re depressed, there may be things a partner can tell you to help you feel better. Give them some ideas about what helps and how to respond when they can tell something’s not right.

At the same time, sharing any depression triggers you have can help your partner navigate those situations, too. Maybe there’s an anniversary date or a holiday that’s particularly hard for you. Or situations at work that bring out your worst feelings. When the people you love understand these things, you can communicate without going into specifics each time they come up.

Help them understand what you’re doing to manage your depression

If your loved one seems to be hounding you about your depression, consider the likelihood that they see the best in you — and they really do believe in you. They may not be able to see the efforts you’re making to function, seek treatment or work through the complexities of your depression. Even the most effective treatments can take time to produce results. 

That said, responses like tough love or “good vibes only” may not be particularly helpful for you. Let your loved one know you understand their concerns and tell them (with respect) how their comments make you feel. Then give them some more helpful alternatives.

Lightfully helps loved ones become your strongest allies

Depression has a way of making people feel isolated and alone, even when they’re surrounded by people with good intentions. If you can give the closest people in your life a glimpse of what you’re going through, you can help them show up for you in the right ways when you need their support. 

Having these conversations on a good day can make navigating difficult topics much easier. Try doing some journaling to gather your thoughts before you approach the topic with your loved ones. Give them some time to express what they’re feeling and make sure you feel seen and heard as well.

It’s not always possible to share your thoughts before you find yourself in a deep depression. Your therapist or a trusted clinical professional can help facilitate the conversation so you can focus on what you need to say. At Lightfully, each of our treatment programs includes family therapy sessions. You can choose who you invite. Keep in mind that people who live with you or see you almost every day may have the most opportunity to support you.

We provide treatment options that prioritize you as a whole person before your symptoms and your diagnosis. If you ever have a need for a higher level of mental health care, we can start with an assessment and create a treatment plan that’s tailored to your life and your needs.

Are you looking at programs right now? Reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team to set up an assessment. Don’t be shy to contact us if there are any other questions we can answer. 

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