By Bill Arbuckle
Depression is quite a common mental health disorder. In Canada alone, one study found that 11.3% of adults indicated meeting the criteria for depression at some point in their life. This mood disorder is characterized by low affect, lack of motivation, hopelessness, low energy, and more.
Not only is depression challenging to navigate and recover from, but reaching out to family and friends can feel daunting. Below, we will discuss some tips and strategies for opening up to loved ones about depression.
Why Depression is Difficult to Discuss
Those who haven’t lived with depression can often have difficulty understanding or empathising with someone who has. Those who don’t have mental health problems may tell the affected person, “Just snap out of it!” or, “Have you tried just being positive?” While these platitudes may be well-intentioned, they’re often unhelpful and can invalidate the experiences of the person reaching out. Loved ones may treat depression as a problem of the person’s outlook on life based on their own misconceptions.
Because the root of depression is often a combination of things, which may include a chemical imbalance, environmental stressors, and/or genetic predisposition, it requires professional counselling, and possibly, medication. Additionally, because depression is an internal illness and not an external one (like a broken foot), the need for intervention is less visible to oneself and others. People can live with depression long before the physical signs of depression start to manifest. These physical signs can include significant weight gain or loss, loss of interest in things previously enjoyed, neglected daily activities like hygiene and self-care, isolation, loss of jobs and relationships, and more.
Those with depression will often self-medicate with unhealthy coping skills like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, gambling, or compulsive shopping. Reaching out for help can be that much harder, because the coping mechanisms compound the sense of shame.
How to Talk About Depression with Loved Ones
If you’re dreading having a difficult conversation about mental health with your loved ones, you’re not alone. Mental health is an often misunderstood and stigmatised topic. Here are some tips for broaching the delicate subject of depression with those closest to you.
1.Write Out Your Thoughts and Prepare What You Want to Say
king the time to work through the language needed to communicate your depression to your loved ones beforehand can help you adequately articulate your feelings and ask for what you need from those around you.
Even if journaling or writing out your emotions is foreign to you, simply articulating those thoughts can be a great exercise in self-reflection. Plus, you’ll have the words already pre-planned before broaching the topic. Additionally, you can compile some resources or links for your loved ones to explore on their own. There are countless resources for friends and family of those with depression, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and books like Laura Epstein’s “When Someone You Love is Depressed: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself.”
Questions to ask yourself when writing out your thoughts can include:
- What is the lived experience of depression like for me?
- How is depression affecting my inner life?
- How has depression affected my relationships, career/education, and day-to-day activities?
- What sort of narrative have I developed for and about myself due to my depression?
- What do I wish people understood about my mental health?
2. Find the Right Time to Communicate
Let your family and friends know that you’re struggling with depression at a time and in a place where you can feel comfortable and calm and have a focused, important conversation without disturbance. We live in a distracted world, and sometimes dedicating time to discuss complex topics can be tricky. But letting your loved ones know that you need their undivided attention free from phones and other obligations can help you start the conversation.
3. Let Loved Ones Know How to Support You
Your family and friends don’t know exactly how you feel to support your healing journey. Odds are they probably will never fully understand. Just because they might not understand exactly what you’re going through, it’s still important to communicate to them how they can help you.
Examples of Support that Your Family Can Provide:
- Visiting regularly, texting to check in, or accompanying you to medical appointments.
- Being a supportive and non-judgmental listening ear.
- Engaging in activities such as going to the gym, going on walks, or even just watching a show together.
- Asking about your mental and physical state.
Part of this process is also communicating things you don’t want and letting friends and family know the unhelpful questions or activities that can make you feel even worse.
You Can Always Reach Out to a Professional
Sometimes it’s best to have the support of a therapist when discussing depression. It seems useful to have someone to practice the conversation you’d like to have. Trained professionals can facilitate the conversation, answer questions, brainstorm solutions, and clear any misconceptions about the disease. A depression diagnosis can be scary for friends and family who just want the best for the person who is suffering, so knowing that a mental health professional is involved can often alleviate a lot of worries.
Depression can be a remarkably isolating and debilitating disorder. Reaching out to family and friends is an excellent step in the healing journey, but it can be challenging to open the channels of communication. Hopefully, these tips and ideas will support you and your family come closer together through this difficult time.
About the Author
Bill Arbuckle has worked in the field of addiction treatment since 2009. Bill specializes in treating addiction and trauma using Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (A.E.D.P.) and Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (E.M.D.R.).
Bill also has personal experience with addiction and substance use. He found the way out, back to the light, and works to help others do the same. He is the founder of Hard Road Counselling, a practice that specializes in addiction counselling in Vancouver, British Columbia.