5 ways to explain your depression to a loved one

We have all felt saddened at some point in our lives. Sometimes life gets too much and you just wish you could break free. Work, relationships, kids, money… they can all trigger negative feelings in us. This is normal, but if this becomes a constant feeling, lasting weeks rather than days and it makes us feel like giving up, it’s time to seek help.

Depression is a very serious and common condition that affects our mood, thoughts and body. It can present itself through deep sadness, excessive guilt, anxiety, or lack of drive to carry out our basic self-care. Sometimes it takes away sleep and appetite. At other times it make make us incapable of socialising or enjoying the things we normally love to do. When we suffer depression we tend to isolate ourselves from family, friends, work or school; making it worse for ourselves and leaving our loved ones confused about our condition and their role in helping us. After all, talking about depression is not easy. It doesn’t have any visible symptoms and sometimes we cannot even explain how or when it started.

But good news is that, as any other health issue, depression can get better. We shouldn’t feel ashamed or weak by getting some support. We just need to find the right thing to say to speak about it clearly with partners, family, friends or colleagues. After all, it’s all about helping them understand and letting them know it’s a process.

Here we propose 5 different ways to explain depression to loved ones you can use.

1. I’m not complaining; I’m depressed.

Situational sadness and clinical depression are different. Whilst the first one is usually triggered by external events (such as a grief or sorrow), the second comes from within us and is the result of a change in the mood networks in our brain. We’ve all heard the typical sentence of “how can he be depressed, he’s got everything one could ever wish for”. Unfortunately, clinical depression can affect anyone, sometimes without any triggers if the person is particularly vulnerable to it. 

2. I’m not moody, it’s my brain!

Depression also causes changes in the brain that result in changes in behaviour.  People affected can cry for no reason, isolate themselves and have no energy to do anything at all. You need to make sure your loved ones understand you don’t do these things for attention, it’s the direct result of the changes the condition causes in the brain. Some patience and understanding is the best help you can get.

3 Do not judge me, don’t feel sorry, just listen to me.

Depression causes something called a 'negative cognitive bias'. Sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but it means the brain will ignore anything good that happens and remember a catastrophic version of anything remotely bad that takes place. Little can be done about this apart from relying on someone who will listen without judging.  Loved ones can help sometimes reframe events in a more positive light or help combat this 'negative cognitive bias' by helping to take note and remember some good things. It's very important to do this without being patronising.

4. I know I’m loved, I’m clever, I’m not to blame. I just need time to get myself together.

Depression gets better with time and treatment, but those affected need a lot of support. It’s always good knowing that someone is there even when the person suffering from depression tries to push them away; someone who doesn’t give up. There will be bad days and good days, but knowing that a person is there no matter what, can help make recovery quicker.

5. Keep me busy and engaged, even if I want to give up. Or stay with me if I can’t make it.

There will be times when those affected will just want to dig themselves deeper into their own grief. At those times they will need someone to help them keep socialising and engaged. Ask your friend/partner/relative to understand your reasons to avoid social situations, but still try to pull you into it and be understanding as well if you just can’t make it one day. You will feel less lonely when you realise that someone cares about you and wants to spend quality time together.

Don’t be embarrassed to be open about your condition. If after making the effort to explain it, someone fails to understand your illness, stay calm and give them time. Some people feel fear or rejection towards topics that are new to them, and they might just need some time to come to terms with it. If after that time they still don’t understand, remember the problem is theirs, not yours!