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How to tell people you have depression

Making the decision to tell people that you’re struggling with depression is a big step. Not only is it difficult to let people in during this difficult time, sadly, there are still many misconceptions about mental illness and the last thing you want is to feel stigmatised because of it.

However, opening up about your depression is one of the most effective steps towards recovery and wellbeing – after all, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Here, we provide advice on how you can go about talking to people about your mental health.

Consider who to tell

It does help to talk to someone about what you’re going through, but don’t feel as though you have to tell everyone, at least not straightaway. Try to reach out to someone who is a good listener, discreet, trustworthy, reliable, non-judgemental and supportive, so they can offer a different perspective. If possible, it can also be very helpful to speak to somebody who has gone through something similar, as it’s likely that they will be able to empathise with you and provide tips on how to cope.

In terms of telling your employer that you are struggling with depression, the advice on this matter is to inform those that ‘need to know’ so they can support you effectively in the work environment. HR, occupational health and immediate line managers are top of the list on this. Some people have reservations about speaking up at work as they fear that they may be judged, their competence may be questioned or that they may be ‘gossiped ‘ about. However, this is rarely the case and you’re likely to be met with support and understanding. Sharing your troubles with those that have a legal responsibility to support you can protect your employment and give you the opportunity to get help. In addition, many workplaces now have mental health champions, and many corporate and government services have links to various mental health services and bespoke employee assistance programmes. Speaking to the appropriate people in your workplace means that you will gain information on the support that’s available to you, ultimately enabling you to start your road to recovery.

Try to prepare for how they might react

Whilst it’s impossible to predict exactly how your chosen person/people will react, it can help to weigh up the different possibilities so you can prepare:

  • If your loved one has never experienced depression, it’s entirely possible that they won’t understand what you’re going through, and why you just can’t stop feeling sad. They might feel like it’s their responsibility to try and ‘fix’ you and try to suggest things that will ‘cure’ your depression
  • Other people may become upset. They may be worried about you and could even blame themselves for not recognising your depression
  • Some people may simply not know how to respond to the news, having never experienced a situation like this before, and therefore, they may try to change the subject and avoid talking about things
  • The person may respond really positively. They may ask you questions about your depression, ask how they can support you, and reassure you that they will always be there for you when you need them
  • It may turn out that the person you confide in has personal experience of depression, or else knows someone who struggles with low mood or another mental health condition. They may therefore be able to empathise with you, or offer words of advice and wisdom that can help you on your recovery journey

Remember, if you feel like your loved one’s reaction isn’t as positive as you would have hoped, it’s very unlikely they’re trying to hurt or upset you - they probably just need time to understand what you have told them and learn ways to support you.

Write down what you want to say

Taking notes can help you gather your thoughts and organise them so you can express yourself in the best possible way. If it makes you feel better, you can even practise saying it out loud before you confide in your loved one.

Do it in a casual environment

Research has shown that doing some form of activity, whether it’s going for a walk, or going out for a coffee, can improve people’s mood. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to the person when you’re out doing something together that you enjoy. Not only will this serve as a distraction so that both of you can gather your thoughts if needed, but being in a generally better mood is likely to make it much easier for you to open up.

Wait until it feels comfortable

Remember, you don’t have to go into it straight away. Take your time and do it when it feels right. You might prefer to talk to them about something completely different to begin with, ask them how they’re doing, or relax for a while with a cup of tea. When you feel ready, the best way to start is to tell them you have something important that you want to talk about, so they know not to take the conversation lightly. Also, it’s important to be clear whether or not you want them to keep the information to themselves at this stage.

Say what you have practised

When you’re ready, just go for it. Say what you’ve practised, and if you feel more comfortable taking your notes with you, then do so. If you get tongue-tied or shaky then don’t worry. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell the person that you’re finding this difficult. If you find that you’re becoming a bit overwhelmed, then just take a break and come back to the conversation later.

Don’t worry

The chances are that the person you are choosing to confide in is a family member, good friend or someone you are very close to. Although they may be surprised at first and may not know what to say initially, remember that they love and care about you and will want to support you in every way they can.

Seek professional help

Whilst it can be enormously helpful to confide in a family member or loved one about the way you’re feeling, ultimately, depression is a mental health condition that can become progressively worse without professional help. At Priory, we offer a whole range of options for treating depression, ranging from more intensive residential support, to flexible weekly therapy groups. You can call us today or send us an email to find out how we can help you.

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Sheetal Sirohi (MBBS, MRCPsych), General Adult Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woking.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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