If you have depression, chances are you'll have to explain your feelings to others, particularly to those who have never experienced depression before.
Not being able to communicate your symptoms can cause you to feel even more isolated, but know that you are not alone. Over 280 million individuals in the world¹ live with depression.
So, how do you explain depression so others are able to understand the condition and what you are going through?
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Depression can be difficult to explain to others because it is a complicated disorder with many symptoms that vary from person to person, which may make it difficult to others to understand your unique experience.
Where some people with depression experience irritability as their primary symptom, for others it may be sadness. This can be confusing for people who want to understand it and be supportive.
The nature of depression itself can make it harder to express yourself. Depression can lower your drive to connect with others, negatively impact your ability to think clearly and process emotions, and make you feel like you want to hide or isolate yourself.
Another challenge is that people tend to assume depression is the same as feeling sad. Your attempts to communicate your experience may be met with statements such as, "Well, everybody gets sad," or, "Why don't you just cheer up?" Having others downplay your feelings can make you less likely to open up and share because you don’t feel understood.
Depression impacts many people and their families in often debilitating ways, but one of the hardest things about it is that it's extremely personal to each individual living with it — and a mystery to many who aren't.
Even explaining depression to your spouse or partner can even be challenging. It’s common for you to feel embarrassed, frustrated, or ashamed.
Since there is no single cause for depression and many of the symptoms appear out of the blue, it can be difficult for you to understand “why” you are depressed, let alone explain it to someone else.
It’s possible that your loved ones may also feel defensive or responsible for your feelings, making it even harder to communicate how you feel.
Most people can acknowledge and feel compassion and empathy for those experiencing physical pain, even if they've never experienced the same type of pain themselves, such as:
People also frequently show compassion for those suffering the pain of a broken heart, the grief of losing a loved one, or other emotional pain, even if they’ve never experienced it themselves.
So why is it so different for depression?
It could be because the condition isn't widely spoken about despite how common it is. There is still a social stigma and lack of education around mental illnesses that can make it more challenging to understand how they affect people. This results in many people with depression suffering in silence.
Here are some different strategies you can try to help you better explain your depression to those who might not have experienced the illness themselves.
1. Be prepared if others don't understand it
Do your best to keep your expectations in check when having a conversation about your depression. Remember that it can be difficult for others to understand, even though it is a common condition that affects so many people worldwide.
You could try to educate them or encourage them to ask questions if they do not seem to understand. This exchange often leads to a meaningful dialogue where both parties leave feeling more understood.
At the end of the day, not everyone will understand how you feel. Being open to having meaningful conversations is important to increasing awareness, reducing stigma, and feeling less isolated in your journey.
2. Enlist educated and trusted allies
Be aware of your limitations and understand that you don't have to be the person who explains depression to others. In some cases, it may do you more harm than good if the person you are talking to does not make you feel understood or acknowledged.
It can be difficult enough to deal with the rollercoaster of symptoms, let alone try and explain them to others who just don't get it.
You're the expert on how you feel and nobody knows more about what you're going through with your depression than you. However, if answering questions and explaining your symptoms feels burdensome, you can ask for help.
Trained health professionals can educate your loved ones for you while helping you to work through your symptoms in a safe space. You can also provide your loved ones with educational material on depression.
Evidence² shows that when people receive education on depression as part of their treatment process, it takes much of the mystery of the condition, leads to more support and understanding, and less guilt.
3. Stick with the facts
The emotional depths of depression can be difficult to convey to those who haven't experienced them.
To help others understand how you are feeling, try to just observe your feelings and thoughts and explain them as best as you can without becoming:
If it's too overwhelming to share your feelings, use online teaching tools or printed materials from organizations like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America or the American Psychiatric Association.
You can also refer loved ones to online videos you have found helpful where people explain how it feels to experience depression.
It can also be helpful to express yourself in writing, such as in a journal. Getting your experiences out on paper enriches your emotional vocabulary and strengthens your ability to talk about your feelings and express yourself.
4. Finding support
Sometimes, you may feel like nobody understands you. If you are finding it too challenging to explain depression to others, you can reach out to like-minded people or support organizations to help you.
You could try the following.
Use a mental health app to connect with support or talk therapy
Seek out support groups in your place of residence or online
Consider exploring resources in a faith or community group
Reach out to those who have been through depression before
Just as there's no "one-size-fits-all" explanation for the way individuals experience depression, there's also no one way to best explain this condition to others.
While depression can be both difficult for you to explain and for others to understand, making that effort to explain your condition to your loved ones can help them understand what you're going through and how to support you as you work through your recovery process.
Be open to answering questions, providing resources, and having honest conversations with people you trust.
Remember that even if it feels like no one understands you, living with depression isn't a failure or weakness. Mental health conditions are as real and debilitating as physical health conditions, and your loved ones should take your depression just as seriously as they would any other medical issue.
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