How to explain depression to someone
One of the hardest things about mental health conditions is how isolating they can feel. Sometimes, even attempting to describe what you’re going through to a friend or loved one can seem impossible. And yet, connecting with someone about your condition can often be a critical source of relief.
If you’re suffering from depression, it’s important to remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your condition, your symptoms, or your treatment plan. The choice to talk about your depression is your own. If you do decide to talk about your depression, we have some simple strategies to help your loved ones understand what you’re going through and help you feel less alone.
Interested in learning more about how depression is treated? Check out how our psychiatrists treat different types of depression.
Why it’s hard for other people to understand depression
Unless you’ve been diagnosed with depression, a type of mood disorder, it’s hard to understand just how overwhelming and all-consuming the symptoms can be. For many people, “depression” is just another word for regular feelings of sadness. An overall lack of knowledge about the condition means that it may be difficult for friends or loved ones to really grasp what you’re going through.
The good news, though, is that overall awareness about mental health and mental health conditions is increasing. Most likely, the people who love you want to understand what you’re going through so they can offer support. Although starting the conversation might be difficult, it can be extremely worthwhile.
How can you explain depression to a loved one?
It can be hard to talk to loved ones about how you’re feeling—especially when you’re worried they will never understand what you’re going through. But social support can be a critical part of healing from depression and talking about depression will help your loved ones support you in the way that you need it. Here are some tips for explaining depression to a loved one.
Describe your symptoms in personal terms
Your friends and loved ones likely want to understand what you’re going through, and the simplest place to start is by explaining your symptoms. This likely includes both emotional and physical symptoms. What does depression look like for you?
For some people, depression means persistent feelings of hopelessness or sorrow, for others, it’s a feeling of apathy, and still, for others, it feels like constant restlessness. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, low energy, trouble sleeping or sleeping to much, are common symptoms of depression. You may not have an appetite, have body aches or pains or experience weight gain or weight loss.
Many people with depression are very good at masking the severity of their symptoms. If that’s you, well-meaning loved ones might not realize exactly how intensely your depression has affected your overall quality of life. Emphasizing all the different aspects of your life that depression affects—your job, your diet, your ability to relax, your social life, your sleep, etc—can help someone understand how all-encompassing it is. Is it hard for you to get out of bed in the morning, to make breakfast, to shower? Do you not enjoy doing the things that once brought you joy? Sharing this with a loved one may help them see how powerful depression is, and how much you’re up against.
Want to learn more about how depression symptoms and how depression impacts the brain? Check out: What Does Depression Feel Like
Some people like to use metaphors to describe depression. It may feel like being stuck in a hole that you can’t get out of, or it may feel like being alone on an island, without the ability to connect with others. Some have described depression as going through the world with a pile of rocks on their backs, unable to find any relief from the painful burden.
How can you help someone understand depression?
For someone who has never experienced depression, it can be hard to understand the feelings of worthlessness and other challenging symptoms that accompany it. Here are some ways to help a loved-one get a better understanding about what you’re going through.
Guide them to resources
Your loved ones want to hear from you about your experiences, but it can also be useful to guide them to professional resources that can help explain depression. A few places to start:
- The National Institutes for Mental Health’s Mental Health Information Page
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
- American Psychiatric Association
You can also ask your psychiatrist or care team for suggestions of resources or professional organizations that may help your loved ones understand what you’re going through.
Write down how you’re feeling, and let them read it
Journaling has long been studied for its benefits in the management of mental health conditions. If journaling about your depression symptoms has been helpful for you, you might consider sharing some of your writing with a trusted loved one to help them gain insight into your experience.
Explain what you’re feeling and thinking
Your loved one might not realize how much depression changes the way you think and feel about yourself. The more you can explain that to them—the many ways depression contributes to negative thoughts about yourself—the more they can understand. For example, people with depression are known to have low self-esteem, fixate on past mistakes, perceived personal deficits, and feel hopeless about their futures.
Let your loved one know how to best support you
Most likely, your loved one wants to understand your depression so they can understand how to help you. Thinking about ways they can do that and asking for specific things can be extremely useful in getting the support you need.
For example, maybe it would be helpful for your loved one to continue to check in with you, even if it seems like you have nothing to say. Maybe you want them to plan activities that can help get you out of the house, or simply be there to listen to you vent or cry. If you’re not sure what would be most helpful, try asking your psychiatrist or care team for suggestions.
Your loved one may also not be quite sure what to say. They may find this read helpful: Avoid These Words With a Depressed Friend
Navigating depression with Talkiatry
While the support of your family members, friends and loved ones can make a big difference in managing your depression, having professional help is critical. The first step in treating depression is getting a diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist. They can then work with you to come up with a treatment plan—often a combination of medication (like antidepressants) and supportive therapy (like CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy)—to get your symptoms under control and get you back to feeling like yourself.
With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Satveet Khela is a board certified physician specializing in adult psychiatry. She has been practicing since 2021.
In addition to focusing on medication management, Dr. Khela's practice also prioritizes a whole person approach, incorporating aspects of nutrition, lifestyle, mindfulness, and supportive or brief cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment plan. Occasionally, Dr. Khela may believe that additional therapy is also needed and ask that you see a separate therapist to provide the best outcome.
Dr. Khela received her undergraduate degree from University of California Berkeley and her medical degree from A.T. Still University. She completed her residency at University of California San Francisco Fresno, where she served as chief resident in her final year. After completing her training, Dr. Khela worked with medically ill patient's with co-morbid psychiatric illnesses. Throughout her career, Dr. Khela has worked with a diverse set of patient in various stages of their lives.
Dr. Khela focuses on treating patients with anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, OCD, and other mental health issues. She believes in empowering her patients to be active players in their treatment plans to facilitate the best care possible.