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How to Explain My Depression To Others

September 23, 2022

Explaining your depression isn’t easy. This condition can rob you of the desire to connect with others, and can leave you searching for words to describe the emptiness inside of you.  The most important thing is to understand what you’re going through.  

You are the expert of your own feelings.  No one, not even your therapist knows more about your experience with depression than you do. But if the job of explaining your symptoms and answering questions feels like a burden, you can ask for help. Enlist trusted and educated allies.  Health professionals are trained and experienced in educating family members.  

There is good evidence that when family members are educated about depression as part of treatment, there’s less mystery about the illness, less guilt, and more understanding and support.

Trying to explain depression to people who have not experienced it can be quite hard.  Stick to the facts.  If you have to go through this remember that It’s okay to simply observe your thoughts and feelings and describe them as best you can. 

Try to explain without becoming angry, judgmental, or aggressive. If your feelings are too overwhelming to share, use printed materials or online tools.  You can find help from organizations such as The American Psychiatric Association, or The Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  You can also turn to online videos in which people explain what it feels like to experience depression. If you find one that relates to you, share it with the people in your circle.  

Before you enter a conversation with someone about the way depression feels, think about what you want to accomplish.  Ask for what you need.  Is there something you want others to do or not do?  Do you need a particular kind of support?  Identifying your needs and goals in advance can help you create reasonable expectations.

Write down a list of your expectations and your needs.  Here are some examples:

-Describe your situation factually, without emotions or judgments

-Express your feelings

-Assert your needs in a simple, straightforward way

-Reinforce the importance of relationships, reminding others how valuable they are to you

-Be mindful and stay in the present, without bringing up the past or worrying about the future

-Appear confident (even if you feel anxious)

-Negotiate your needs, even when they seem impossible. Work with the other person to find an alternative that might work

When it comes to talking to your children, consider age and maturity.  If you are explaining your depression to children.  Younger children may not be aware of changes in your mood or behavior.  On the other hand, older children and teens may have questions and would like to know more.  If you are co-parenting, your partner may be able to help you explain that you’re having a hard time.  If you are the sole parent, it’s okay to tell your children that you want to be there for them more than you are able to right now, and that your depression has nothing to do with them.

It’s okay to say things like “I want to be there for you more than I am able to right now.  It’s not because of you.”  The important message to communicate is that your struggles are not their fault.

It is important to keep your expectations in check.  Not everyone has to understand depression.  Be prepared if others don’t get it.  Know your support system, your allies.  Create new ones if you need more support.  

Reach out to someone who has been through the same situation and can understand you.  If your support system becomes short, consider exploring resources in your faith community or reach out to support groups.

When you talk about depression and it doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, don’t give up.  If it doesn’t go well at first, don’t give up on trying to explain.   Sometimes this can create some distance between you and the people you care about.  Some people may feel misunderstood, and sometimes depression symptoms can be exacerbated. 

Discussions like these can take time.  Awareness can grow gradually.  Always remember to be patient with yourself and others, your communication may be better in the long run.  

As you are preparing yourself to talk about depression with others, ask yourself these questions:

-How is  depression affecting my body and how I feel physically?

-How is my depression affecting my thoughts?

-How is  depression affecting my ability to concentrate and remember things?

-How is  depression affecting my relationships?

Depression affects people differently.  Knowing your own symptoms can help you explain them to people who care about you. It can also help you explain them to your  medical professionals.

You don’t always have to use words to explain depression.  People have been using art, music, dance, photography, movies, spoken poetry, and other means to express their depression without words. 

You may be a professional artist. Or you may be a novice looking for a way to express your own feelings. Either way, explaining depression creatively isn’t just a communication strategy. Studies show that using these methods can help you improve your levels of depression. 

Talking about depression can be hard for many reasons.  Some of the reasons include Stigma.  In some families, and communities, people may be less likely to talk about mental health because they worry about disapproval. When you are in an environment where mental health issues are stigmatized, you may feel less safe sharing your experiences.

Exhaustion. Feeling tired, worn down, and wrung out are common symptoms of depression. If you are exhausted, you might not have the energy to tackle the task of explaining to others how you feel.

Isolation. Depression often makes people want to withdraw. If you’re struggling to connect with and confide in other people, it can make depression symptoms worse. It’s a cycle.

Cognitive effects. Depression makes it harder to think clearly. In one 2019 study, people with depression said they felt scattered, as if they had brain fog. Some said depression led to communication problems.

Individual differences. If you’re less comfortable talking about your feelings, opening up and expressing your feelings is unnatural for you. Experts at the National Institutes of Mental Health also suggest that gender might play a role in how comfortable you are talking about depression.

Explaining depression can be challenging. Your symptoms may not look like everyone else’s. You may or may not feel comfortable sharing your feelings with other people.

The bottom line.  If you’re working with a therapist or psychiatrist, reach out and ask for help in educating the people in your life about depression. If you are co-parenting, ask your partner to help you. Or you can look for educational materials from trusted sources.

Before you have a conversation about depression with others, think about your goals and your expectations. You may also want to think about how you will react if the conversation doesn’t go as planned, and how you will take care of yourself.

Everybody's story is valid and unique. How you explain it with words, art, or some other form of expression is a matter of personal choice.

 

 

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