Mental illnesses are often misunderstood and can carry many unique stigmas. This makes it really hard to tell a friend or family member you are struggling with a mental illness. I have depression and whenever it is brought up, no matter how well meaning someone is, I always feel a bit ashamed. These conversations can make me feel like I did something wrong to deserve my depression or I caused it in some way.
Here are four things I’ve observed when trying to talk with someone about my depression and some tips on handling the conversation:
Do not expect to be immediately understood. For someone who doesn’t have the everyday struggle of depression, it can be a really difficult thing to understand. Your friendswill likely have a lot of questions for you, so just try to be patient and know they are asking because they care about you.
Expect to be Offended
Sometimes, when people don’t know a lot about depression, you’ll get questions or comments that are just infuriating, or at least they are for me. Some of these can include “Why don’t you stop being so negative?”, “Why can’t you just be happy?” or “You have a good life, what do you have to be depressed about?” Keep in mind, your friend isn’t trying to be cruel or rude to you, they just want to know what you are going through and how to help you. Try explaining what depression actually is and that it is not something that you can just “snap out of.”
It’s always odd when telling someone a secret or something serious for the first time. Some people react with sadness, some people react with shock, some people think it’s no big deal, and some people have no idea how to react. When I get nervous or feel awkward I tend to giggle ridiculously, which may be a highly inappropriate reaction to someone telling me they have a mental illness. Just be prepared to deal with various reactions, as everyone feels and thinks differently and everyone has different preconceived notions about mental illness.
If someone really cares about you, of course they will be concerned when you tell them you’ve been diagnosed with depression. Sometimes this concern can be taken too far though. Clarify that you don’t need to be constantly babysat or checked on. Let your friend know that if you need someone to talk to you will come to him or her, but you don’t necessarily want to be asked multiple times a day if you’re okay. When you tell them about your depression, try telling them how they can help, and what things are not helpful for you.
Depression is a tough subject to talk about. No conversation about depression is going to be an easy or comfortable one. However, being open about how you feel and what you are going through is important. It can help you build a solid support system and ultimately your friends and family will appreciate that you let them know what was going on.