How To Tell Someone You’re Depressed

September 22, 2022   •  Posted in: 

Depression is a sometimes misunderstood mental health condition. In everyday language, low mood is often worded as ‘feeling depressed,’ but this isn’t the same as clinical depression.

There are several different types of depression. It’s important to understand what depression is, how common it is, and the typical symptoms of depression.

The Center • A Place of HOPE has an online test for depression that can help you to get a clearer sense of what you might be suffering from.

If ongoing feelings of depression have set in, speak to a medical doctor or a mental health professional who will be able to offer advice, support, and treatment options for you.

 

Telling other people about your depression

There is no shame in suffering from depression, but some sufferers find it difficult to share their feelings and experiences with others. There are several reasons for this. Historical stereotypes and media portrayals of mental illness have often not been particularly kind, accurate, or helpful.

But things are changing for the better. While one study from 2009[1] found those with depression were less likely to disclose their feelings to others, another more recent study[2] from 2021 concluded the stigma around depression lessened significantly between 2006-2018.

Today, we know that hope is one of the factors known to reduce depression.[3] Telling another person what you’re going through is an inherently hopeful act, and can be the first step towards recovery. Being able to share your feelings, ask for support, and knowing someone has your back are all positive ways to look after yourself.

It is important to know that if you are struggling with depression, you’re not alone. Depression is the number one cause of disability in the world, with over 300 million sufferers across the globe. In the U.S. ,statistics show that 7.1% of adults will suffer from a significant depressive episode this year.

With this in mind, the person you are talking to has likely also experienced depression, either in themselves or in someone close to them.

 

I want to tell someone about my depression but I don’t know how

Perhaps you need support from friends, colleagues, family, or loved ones. But what is the best way to tell them?

1. Establish what you want or need from the conversation

Figuring out why you want to tell someone you’re depressed is the first stage. You may have many reasons, as well as a range of desired outcomes. Getting these clear in advance will help make the process go as smoothly as possible.

Things to consider include:

1. Are you seeking advice or a sympathetic ear?

If you’re looking for advice, then ask for advice. But if you definitely don’t want advice, then say this upfront.

Would you like the person you’re telling to listen with empathy? Then ask for this directly.

A clear sentence to open the conversation could go something like this:

‘I’m not looking for solutions, I just need to tell you what’s going on for me. I’d really like you to listen while I speak.’

Let the other person know you’d like to tell them how you’re feeling, and that you need them to validate these feelings.

2. Are you seeking practical help and support?

Feelings of fatigue are a common symptom of depression, and it can also affect sleep. If you need help with tasks and chores at home, school, or work then ask for this. Be clear about what would make a difference, and ask what the other person feels comfortable offering.

Perhaps you just need some extra consideration and for others to take into account how you are feeling. Try to identify what impact the depression is having on you, and how this might be affecting your daily life.

For example, you might be slower to reply to messages, have trouble taking public transport, or be experiencing loss of appetite. These are all things that are helpful to communicate to others so they can be aware of what you’re going through, and how they might help.

3. Are you wanting to feel less alone?

Managing your depression alone isn’t easy. Wanting to feel less alone is an important driver for recovery.

Telling someone else what you are going through is a way of creating connection, which could even help you to feel less isolated and alone. Connection builds belonging, while a lack of belonging is directly related to depression and hopelessness, and indirectly related to suicidal ideation[4].

While depression can be extremely isolating, it may be that you don’t want to talk about your depression, but just want the other person to know. If this is the case, it might be difficult for the other person to honor your wishes without starting up a conversation with you.

Being firm and direct from the start will help with this, as will saying that you just want them to know. In this circumstance, you might also want to consider how you tell them. See below.

Forward The Center • A Place of HOPE’s Depression Test, or the article about how to help someone who is depressed.

2. Who do you want to tell?

Once you’ve figured out your reasons for telling someone you’re depressed, it’ll be much easier to decide who you’d like to tell.

If you have a partner, telling them you are depressed isn’t easy, but it’s likely to be worthwhile. Because of their proximity to you, you might find they already suspect something is going on with you. They may even be looking for a way to talk to you about how you’re feeling and what support you might need.

If you’re close to your family, letting them know about your depression could open up lines of communication for emotional and practical support. Likewise, close friends will likely want to help you in any way they can.

Telling someone at work might be necessary if your depression means you are unable to do your job, or if you need to take time off while you’re undergoing treatment.

One study[5] found that while benefit systems and flexible working hours are important for understanding workplace perceptions and consequences for employees with depression, there is actually a more significant element to consider.

Manager responses that focus on offering help to the employee with depression seem to have stronger associations with both positive perceptions in the workplace, and also with openness and disclosure by employees with depression.

Check to see what your workplace policies say about mental illness, and take this as your lead for initiating a conversation with your manager or HR team.

3. Write down what you want to say

You’ve figured out what you want to say and who you want to tell. The next thing is to make some notes so you have something to refer to when you’re having the conversation.

Thinking about who you are telling, and how you think they might respond, is a good place to start.

If it’s not too difficult, you could think about telling them what symptoms you’ve been experiencing, and what prompted you to seek professional help.

The person you’re telling might want to know why you have depression, so it can be useful to read up on the possible causes of depression or to suggest the other person reads up on the condition.

Writing notes is also a helpful way to stay on track, particularly in situations where the other person might want to take you off course. It can also be a helpful way to work out your boundaries (i.e. what’s okay, and what’s not okay, for you).

You could even make a note of what you might say if the conversation takes a turn for the worse.

For example, if the other person keeps interrupting you, this might be something like ‘I want to tell you about my depression but I’m finding it difficult to answer all your questions. Can I talk first, then you can ask questions when I’m done?’

Alternatively, they might become upset, in which case you could say something like ‘I’m going to need you to place a marker on your feelings for a moment. I can see that it’s upsetting for you, and I appreciate this might be hard to hear, but right now I need to let you know how things are for me.’

4. Finding the right time and place to tell someone you’re depressed

The final thing to consider when planning on telling someone you’re depressed is to think about what situation would work best for this conversation.

This might be determined by geography. If the person you’d like to tell lives in a different state or even country, then telling them face to face will be much more difficult. You could wait until you are due to meet up in person, or you could choose another means of communication.

This could be a phone call or video call. Some people find a call much easier than being in the same room when it comes to sensitive conversations.

Alternatively, if you don’t feel able to take part in a call in real time then an email, text conversation or even writing a letter could all be good options. Sometimes, these forms of communication work particularly well when you have something you’d like to say without wanting to engage in debate.

If you would like to have the conversation face-to-face, then a little planning can help ensure this goes as smoothly as possible.

Think about where you would like to be, whether you would like to be in a busy, public place or somewhere more private. Consider how you might invite the other person for this conversation, such as letting them know beforehand you have something you’d like to talk about or allowing the conversation to flow more organically.

If your plan is to suggest a social date that is not out of the ordinary, you could even see how you feel in the moment. Don’t feel able to do it this time? No problem. If you’re already doing something you both enjoy, put your energy into this activity and plan to have the conversation another time.

There is some evidence to show that standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone rather than face-to-face allows difficult conversations to flow more freely. Whether that’s traveling together by car, a gentle stroll, or hiking, take advantage of this idea if the thought of a deep and meaningful conversation turns you off.

A hike in nature will have a doubly beneficial effect. In addition to walking shoulder-to-shoulder, research[6] shows that being in nature is good for mental health as it improves both mood and memory. Two hours a week is enough for you to experience these benefits to mind and body, something researchers have likened to ‘shinrin-yoku’ – Japanese “forest bathing.”

You don’t even need to hike. The impact is the same for those who choose to sit passively in nature vs those, say, taking in a mountain walk. Simply being in nature with your feelings is the key here.

 

I want to tell someone but I can’t

Telling someone you know can be difficult. Perhaps you’ve tried all the suggestions above and still are unable to talk about it.

It’s important to tell someone if you can. The feelings of isolation that can come with depression can really add to your struggle, making it worse.

Telling a stranger can help. There are a range of depression hotlines available staffed by skilled and compassionate individuals who are there to support you.

Thoughts of suicide are one of the symptoms of depression, which makes it a life-threatening illness. Current estimates suggest that around two-thirds of all suicides are depression-related, so if you’re feeling lonely, isolated, or suicidal, please seek help.

 

What about treatment for your depression?

​​Depression is a treatable illness, with up to 80% of those receiving treatment noticing an improvement in their symptoms.

The Center • A Place of HOPE has been voted a Top Ten Depression Treatment Center in the United States. Contact us today and talk with a specialist about how we can help you beat depression and start living a healthy, happy, and fulfilled life.


[1] Kahn, J. H., & Garrison, A. M. (2009). Emotional self-disclosure and emotional avoidance: Relations with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56(4), 573–584. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016574
[2] Pescosolido, B., Halpern-Manners, A., Luo, L. and Perry, B., 2021. Trends in Public Stigma of Mental Illness in the US, 1996-2018. JAMA Network Open, 4(12), p.e2140202.
[3] Kaleta, K., Mróz, J. The Relationship between Basic Hope and Depression: Forgiveness as a Mediator. Psychiatr Q 91, 877–886 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11126-020-09759-w
[4] Fisher LB, Overholser JC, Ridley J, Braden A, Rosoff C. From the Outside Looking In: Sense of Belonging, Depression, and Suicide Risk. Psychiatry. 2015;78(1):29-41. doi: 10.1080/00332747.2015.1015867. PMID: 26168025.
[5] Evans-Lacko S, Knapp M (2014) Importance of Social and Cultural Factors for Attitudes, Disclosure and Time off Work for Depression: Findings from a Seven Country European Study on Depression in the Workplace. PLoS ONE 9(3): e91053. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0091053
[6] Marc G. Berman, Ethan Kross, Katherine M. Krpan, Mary K. Askren, Aleah Burson, Patricia J. Deldin, Stephen Kaplan, Lindsey Sherdell, Ian H. Gotlib, John Jonides,
Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression,
Journal of Affective Disorders,
Volume 140, Issue 3,
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Pages 300-305,
ISSN 0165-0327,
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012.

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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