It’s not easy to talk about depression. Whether you’re one of the 16 million Americans who suffer each year from major depressive disorder or you’re concerned about a friend who’s showing classic symptoms, bringing up a mental health topic can be intimidating. Adding to the problem is the fact that depression takes many forms. Though there are many uniform symptoms, the disorder may affect people differently based on any number of individual and environmental factors.
No matter how the symptoms manifest, it’s important to not go through it alone. Whether you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, it’s crucial to reach out, even if only as a reminder that people are willing to help. Here’s how to start the conversation about depression.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that can manifest in different symptoms and effects, both physical and mental. Depending on its severity, it can be extremely taxing on your ability to think, feel and even engage in everyday life. Working, eating, sleeping and interacting with people you love can be dampened by depression, or you might find that you no longer have any interest in doing the things you like. And while we’re referring to depression as a singular mental health issue, it’s not. There are different types of depression, ranging from temporary forms like postpartum depression to long-term issues like chronic depression. Each has its own set of signs and symptoms, so understanding the differences and how to respond to each will be helpful in getting through to the people you care about – or letting people in, if you’re the one suffering.
When a Loved One Struggles
Before you broach the subject with your friends and family, know this: There’s no single right way to tackle this weighty topic. People respond to different kinds of support in different ways. You might like physical comfort, like hugging, but your sister might not. Talking everything through might seem like the right course of action, but gauge how your friend handles deep talks before diving in. The important thing is to let someone know that you’re available. Once your friend knows this, he can choose on his terms whether to open up about what he’s feeling. Here are three steps to getting started:
- Ask what’s going on
- Listen to what they’re saying
- Offer ongoing support
The best approach is a direct one. If you suspect that someone you care about is depressed, ask about it. You don’t need to be blunt or unkind. Instead, ask in a way that makes sense. For instance, you could say, “I haven’t seen you at our small group study lately. Anything wrong?” Find a way to ask that fits your personality and situation. As long as you’re genuine, the point will come across.
Remember to listen more than you speak, especially if you haven’t had personal or firsthand experience with depression. For many people who suffer from depressive disorders, one of the best things that you can do is be more of a compassionate listener than someone who is ready to give advice. Depression can be the result of chemical and hormonal signals in the brain, and overcoming it isn’t always as simple as suggesting ways around it. Avoid offering advice unless asked.
Offer help and support, but don’t assume. You might think that running errands, making meals or offering to clean your friend’s home would be helpful – and it might. But until you find out what your loved one really needs, let her maintain control over her environment and her decisions. Make sure your friends or family know that they can count on you, whether that means listening as they talk about rough days, driving them to therapy appointments or taking care of household chores while they’re down. Even small gestures make a world of difference to people who feel isolated and overwhelmed.
When asking about the depression, be open and understanding in your questions. Ask things like when they first began to feel the way they do or if there was a cause that they can identify. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, ask how your friend needs you to proceed. Admit that you’re not sure what to do, but offer support all the same. Stay positive as you speak and take their feelings into consideration.
In our effort to comfort the people we love, we can sometimes seem condescending or oblivious without trying. Avoid diminishing your loved one’s feelings. For example, telling someone with depression that some people have worse problems, or suggesting that diet and exercise alone would eliminate the problem will probably make things worse. Depression isn’t just in someone’s head. It’s a diagnosable mental health problem, and there are practical ways to address it.
When You Struggle
Living with depression is never easy. Talking about it might be even more difficult. If you feel as though you want to talk to someone you know but have no idea how to proceed, read some pointers on how to get started. Planning ahead and remembering what you want to convey will help you and the people you love understand what’s going on. Know that:
- You are in control of the information that you want to share;
- Your friends and family care about you and want to help;
- Healthcare providers are also there to help; and
- You’re not alone.
How much you share about your struggle depends entirely on you. But the more you reach out to those around you, the better things will be in the long run. When it comes to doctors, know that they can’t properly diagnose mental health concerns unless a patient is upfront about her problems and symptoms. If you’re ready to get help, find a practitioner you can connect with and a friend you trust. Even though depression may manifest in feelings of loneliness and solitude, knowing that you have friends and family members who care about you can lift some weight from your shoulders.
Opening up about depression is a vital step to take in treating it. There’s no perfect or correct way to go about it, but starting the conversation may alleviate some of the pressure that you or your loved ones are dealing with. You don’t have to struggle with depression alone. Plenty of resources exist to help you manage your condition and enjoy better quality of life.