How To Approach Friends and Family About Depression

Roughly 16 million American adults are estimated to have major depressive disorder, and far more are estimated to experience a form of depression at some point in their lifetime. It’s likely that you know someone who is depressed or are depressed yourself.

And that is okay. While occasionally severe, and definitely very challenging, depression is a treatable condition and, given the right support, you can live a normal life and even go on to do great things despite your diagnosis. But few have the right support, in part because they haven’t told others about their condition.

While there’s no shame in being sick, there’s still a lot of stigma attached to mental illness. Being depressed is not your fault, but it isn’t something you can snap out of, either – nevertheless, many people who have never personally struggled with mental health issues fail to understand how depression works, and how it can make even the simplest tasks seem insurmountable at times.

That can make seeking help and acceptance from others a very difficult thing to do. No one wants to be judged for something they can’t easily change and being judged for an illness you likely already feel terrible about only serves to make things worse, feeding the depression. But we still need help. When looking for people to confide in, knowing what to look for and what to expect can take a lot of weight off your shoulders.


Find Someone You Trust

The first step is to find someone you trust. It’s okay not to openly discuss your mental health with everyone, and it’s your right to wait before you talk to someone about it – but opening up to someone you deeply care about and trust can be a massive relief. If they trust and care about you, they will accept you no matter what – and your revelation won’t change the way they think about you.

It will often, however, drive them to ask themselves what depression is, and how they might help.

Even if you’re opening up to someone you deeply trust, there can still be a chance of a backfire – particularly if they don’t understand what depression is or aren’t familiar at all with mental health issues. Thankfully, most Americans are aware of the importance of mental health issues, and 90 percent believe mental health is as important as physical health, and that the country’s current mental health care system is wholly lacking.

While most Americans never struggled with a depressive disorder, many have heard about the condition, and most would do everything they could to help a loved one who had been diagnosed with said condition. A big part of that means learning more about depression and the many forms in which it can exist and learning more about what it means to support someone struggling with depression.

Oftentimes, talking to loved ones can be an enormous relief. It takes a lot of pressure off a person to try and hide their condition, and it allows them to no longer worry about being judged by their family for their mental health. It can also lead to potentially better possibilities for treatment, financial help with treatment costs, and more.


Friends and Family Often Try to Learn 

There is plenty to learn about depression, and most people don’t know enough from personal experience to understand how a depressive disorder differs from a depressed or low mood, and why depression is so widespread in its effects.

Learning more about depression can help friends and family members better understand how their own actions and words might affect their loved one, and find ways to help, be it just listening, being available, helping with a task, or just as a sounding board.

Another aspect to consider is that, given that roughly one in every dozen Americans has or is struggling with a depressive episode, there is a chance that opening up about your depression can lead you to someone in your family or friend group who has struggled with depression as well. Family members may unexpectedly also be depressed because genetics can play a role in depression, as well as anxiety and other mental health issues.


Know What to Expect

There are a few things to expect when talking to loved ones about depression, particularly if they don’t know anything about it.

  • Expect to explain depression. Go over how it is a disorder of the brain characterized by a consistent, and sometimes even perpetual low mood. Explain concepts such as anhedonia (lack of pleasure), or how you experience particularly low moods without any control over your thought processes.
  • Expect to be confronted with misunderstanding. There may be times when a person conflates depression with suicidal ideation – although the two are tied together, they are separate. A person can be significantly depressed for years, without attempting suicide.
  • Expect a potentially lengthy conversation. You can cut it short, if you choose to. It is within your right to simply explain that you have been diagnosed with depression, that you’ve been struggling with it for a period of time, that it is mild/severe, and that you are seeking treatment. You don’t have to field questions for an hour or hold an extensive Q&A – instead, opt to talk about the details some other time, if you feel more comfortable that way.
  • Expect to hear some less-than-useful tips. Friends and loved ones who know little about depression might simply tell you to stop thinking like that, or cringe at some of the depressive thoughts you might reveal. They don’t understand that these thoughts are not within your control, and that ‘not thinking them’ isn’t an option.

While some friends might offer to go grab a drink with you, it’s also important to remember that drinking away your feelings isn’t a healthy nor effective treatment. In fact, alcohol can make things much worse in the long-term. Other examples include ‘tough love’ or impatience at how long certain treatments take to work. Explain that tough love is simply damaging, rather than helpful, and that antidepressants and other treatments take time for the body and brain to react to.

Dealing with depression is no easy thing, by any means. But it can be made easier by talking to others about it. If you don’t feel comfortable confiding in anyone in your friend group or family, consider finding other people who deal with depression in your area, or speak to your therapist about how to deal with talking to your family about your condition.


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