Deciding to tell the people you love that you’re struggling with depression is a big step. Not only is it challenging to find the energy to reach out to people, but there are naturally worries about how the news of your diagnosis will be received.
Unfortunately, there are too many misconceptions about mental health and what it means and the last thing you need is to be judged negatively because of it.
But, opening up about your depression is one of the most effective ways to get the help and support you need at a time when you likely feel vulnerable and alone, especially if you choose to disclose your illness to people that you know and trust.
Remember though, you are in control and you get to choose who knows and who doesn’t. Just don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from opening up to the people who care about you.
If you’re considering disclosing your diagnosis to the people close to you but just aren’t sure how to start the conversation, here are some things to consider.
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Why You Should Talk About Depression
Naturally, the prospect of disclosing your depression to other people is scary. You have no way of knowing for sure how they will respond.
But choosing to tell the people closest to you about your diagnosis and your struggles can be very healing, especially if they offer support and encouragement.
In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, simply talking to a sympathetic person can reduce your stress level and improve your mood.
Likewise, letting other people know about your depression provides a safety net of sorts, especially if your condition worsens or if you need help or support.
In some cases, you may even want to share your crisis plan with a few trusted friends or family friends. This way, they know how to respond if your depression hits crisis level or you start talking about suicide.
The key is that you try not to deal with depression alone. Being depressed already heightens feelings of isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness.
You can help counteract these feelings by surrounding yourself with supportive people who remind you that you are not alone and that you are loved—even when you don’t feel that way.
What to Consider Before You Disclose
Ideally, the people around you will be empathetic and understanding, but in reality some of those closest to you may be uneducated about depression and what it means.
Some People Don’t Understand Depression
People may want to help you but are not sure how, or they may believe some of the myths that society buys into about depression.
For this reason, you need to be aware of the fact that not everyone will understand what you’re going through.
Consequently, you may want to carefully choose who you disclose this information to and when.
Start by making a list of the most supportive people you know. Typically, these people are the ones you should tell first. Remember, not everyone knows how to offer emotional support though.
If you have friends or family members who lack this skill, it doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. It just means that they may not be the best ones to invite into your journey. In fact, telling them—particularly when you are vulnerable—may be counterproductive.
How Many People Should You Tell?
There is no right or wrong number of people to tell. In fact, the number will be different for everyone. Some people choose to tell just one person, and others benefit from telling many of the people in their life.
You are the expert on your situation and can decide what is best for you.
As you prepare to tell other people about your depression, it also can be helpful to consider how you feel about the diagnosis first.
In other words, what are your perceptions of depression as well as your expectations of yourself?
Understanding your feelings and coming to terms with your diagnosis helps you be more confident about sharing with others without feeling afraid or ashamed.
Disclosing Your Depression
When you decide to talk to your friends about your depression, it’s natural to feel uncertain and a little apprehensive. But, you shouldn’t let these feelings stand in your way.
Remind yourself that sharing details about your depression and what you’re going through can be very healing and in the end will benefit you in a number of ways.
Plus, having a few supportive people in your corner when things feel overwhelming, can do wonders for your mood. Good friends remind you that you are worthy and that your life is worth living.
So, if you have decided to invite a close friend or family member into your journey, here are some tips on how to talk about your depression:
- Pick a day and time when you’re feeling OK and you feel like talking. You don’t have to force yourself to discuss your depression if you just don’t feel up to it or if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable.
- Choose a casual environment for sharing the details, like while taking a walk, shooting hoops, or having a cup of coffee. Not only will the activity improve your mood, but doing something together that you enjoy provides a good distraction in case one or both of you need to gather your thoughts.
- Share as much or as little information as you want because there are no guidelines on what people have to know. Never feel obligated to share everything and if they ask a question you’re not comfortable answering, simply respond with “I’m not ready to talk about that yet.”
- Rehearse the conversation in your head or write it down because sometimes, in the moment, you can forget to mention key things you want your friends to know, so it helps to be prepared.
- Try not to worry about what the person will think of your situation. Remind yourself that they love you and want to support you even if they don’t know how.
- Let the person know how they can help as your close friends will want to help if they can. So, think about what you might like from your friend. Maybe you just need them to be there for you or maybe you’d like them to join you at your first therapy visit. You might also ask them to hold you accountable for any actions that may harm you, like drinking while taking medications.
- Remember that their reaction is not a reflection on you, regardless of how your friend responds. It’s also not your fault if they’re not supportive or understanding. And, if they try to discredit you, gently remind them that you’re the one living with depression and that you know yourself best.1
- Refrain from getting into debates about depression because it’s not your job to educate your friend or defend your diagnosis. While you can point them to resources for more information, don’t expend a lot of energy trying to change someone’s opinion.
- Set some boundaries if needed, in other words, if your friend wants to “fix” the situation or tries to become your therapist, gently remind them that you’re already seeing a counselor and what you need most from them is their support and encouragement.
- Remember, talking about depression demonstrates that it’s OK to talk about mental health and that it’s not something to hide or be ashamed of. You may be surprised to learn that they also are struggling with a mental health issue or have a close friend or family member that is.
- Congratulate yourself on having the courage to share your diagnosis with another person. You have just taken another step forward in your recovery and healing.
When it comes to talking to others about your depression, you’re not obligated to tell anyone that you are depressed unless you want to tell them, including family members, friends, and coworkers.
If you feel like certain people in your life won’t understand or are unsafe, by all means keep the information to yourself.
Keep in mind though that telling other people you are depressed can be both beneficial and healing. You shouldn’t have to go through this experience alone, especially if there are friends or family members who would be understanding and supportive.
Reach out to those closest to you and invite them into your life. You might be surprised how much better you will feel just by having a few supportive people around you.
By Sherri Gordon and Reviewed by David Susman, PhD