Reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Depression is a serious mood disorder that can affect almost every aspect of your life, from your thoughts to your levels of energy, ability to concentrate and even some aspects of your physical health and well-being.
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, it’s important to receive help. One of the best ways to make sure you have access to help and support is to tell your trusted friends and family that you aren’t feeling well, and let them know how they can assist you.
Telling someone that you’re depressed can be difficult, even if you’ve known them for your entire life. Opening up is a big step, and it’s far from uncommon to have worries about being judged or misunderstood by the people closest to you.
Below, we’ve covered why talking about depression is important, as well as what you should be aware of before you talk to your family and friends about your mental health.
We’ve also explained how to tell someone you’re depressed, with straightforward, simple tips to help you make what’s often a difficult conversation easier for both of you.
Depression is a mental disorder that can affect people of all ages. In fact, according to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 10.5 percent of all US women experienced one or more depressive episodes in the past year.
Pessimistic or hopeless feelings
A loss of interest in your normal hobbies and passions
Sad, empty moods that continue for long periods of time
Feelings of anxiety, guilt, helplessness and/or worthlessness
Increased irritability and a feeling that you have a “short fuse”
Difficulty falling asleep or maintaining normal sleep patterns
Reduced energy levels and slowed movement and/or speech
Difficulty staying focused, making decisions or remembering information
Changes in your appetite, eating habits and body weight
Feeling as if you can’t relax and spend time sitting still
Cramps, aches, pains and other physical symptoms
Suicidal thoughts and an increased risk of suicide
Although most people are familiar with major depressive disorder (MDD), far fewer are aware that there are numerous other forms of depression that can affect your feelings, thoughts and behavior, including a type of depression that can develop after pregnancy.
Our guide to the different types of depression provides more information about these common forms of depression, as well as their risk factors and specific symptoms.
While talking with other people about depression may not feel like the natural thing to do when you’re feeling down, doing so can have real benefits.
Talking to your close friends and family members can also provide you with a valuable network of trusted, caring people who can help you cope with your symptoms and, if you feel like you need it, seek and receive effective treatment.
Most importantly, letting other people know that you’re depressed makes it clear that you’re not dealing with this all by yourself. This psychological reminder may help when you’re dealing with severe depression symptoms and feel like things won’t get better.
They will, and having the right people in your corner — whether they’re your friends, your family or a mix of people who care about you — can often make all the difference.
Generally, when you’re depressed, it’s best to confide in your partner, members of your family, and trusted friends who you know can provide support. Even telling one or two people can be therapeutic and create a valuable support network for you to turn to when needed.
Use the following steps to work out who to talk to about depression:
Make a list of supportive people to talk to. Try preparing a list of friends and family members who you know can provide support and help. Focus on the people who are familiar with your needs, good listeners, accepting and open-minded.
If you need to, consider telling your employer. Depression can often interfere with your ability to concentrate and work. By law, you have the right to receive reasonable accommodations from your employer if you suffer from major depression.
If you need accommodations from your employer to help you perform your job while you have depression symptoms (for example, an altered schedule or the ability to work from your home), consider talking to your HR department.
Consider letting a trusted friend or family member tell others. If you don’t want to tell other people about your depression, consider telling a close friend or family member to inform them on your behalf. Read our blog on explaining your depression to someone for more help.
Alternatively, if you want to keep your mental health situation private, make sure that you tell your friends and family not to share this information with other people.
Telling someone that you’re depressed can feel daunting, especially if you’re worried about how they’ll react. It’s normal, natural and common to feel nervous about it, and it’s equally as normal to have mixed feelings about whether it’s the right thing to do.
If you’re feeling nervous, remember that by telling the right people about your depression, you’ll give yourself a network of individuals who can support you and speed up your recovery.
Below, we’ve shared some tips and techniques that you can use to have “the conversation” with friends, family members and other important people in your life the right way.
You shouldn’t feel obligated to tell your friends and family that you’re depressed as soon as you receive a diagnosis from your mental health provider. Instead, it’s far better to wait until you feel comfortable with yourself and ready to have the conversation.
If you’re feeling uncertain, worried or just not quite ready to have the conversation with a family member or friend, don’t feel like you have to do it just now.
Instead, wait until you’re feeling ready. This could mean letting a few days pass and choosing a moment in which your symptoms feel less severe, or simply waiting for an opportunity to talk to someone you trust in the right setting.
Your surroundings can have a huge impact on the tone of a conversation, and telling someone that you have depression is no exception.
Before you start talking to anyone about your depression, choose an environment in which you feel comfortable. This could mean inviting a friend or family member to your home, going out to have a cup of coffee together, or just going for a walk around your neighborhood.
Try to avoid high-pressure environments or situations in which you can’t properly express your emotions. Instead, pick an environment or activity that allows you to both feel relaxed and talk openly without any limitations.
When you feel ready to talk to your friend, family member or partner about your depression, try starting the conversation by letting them know you have something to talk about.
When you do this, aim to communicate to the other person that you’d like to discuss something that’s serious and important to you. Don’t be afraid to let them know if you feel embarrassed or nervous about the conversation.
Often, beginning with a simple statement such as the following can help to set the tone for your conversion:
“I have something important to talk to you about. It’s a little embarrassing and I feel nervous to talk about it, but you’re someone I can trust to take this seriously. Can you listen to me and let me share this with you?”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness refers to this part of the conversation as “process” talk, or talking about the conversation you’re going to have. It’s an important part of preparing your friend, family member or partner for a conversation about mental illness.
Unfortunately, many people have misconceptions about the nature, causes and severity of many mental health conditions, including depression. Other people may have an open mind but find it difficult to understand the true impact that depression can have on your life.
One way that you can help your family and friends understand how you feel is to give specific examples of how your depression affects you.
This could mean letting a family member or trusted friend know about a certain symptom that’s affecting you, such as sudden feelings of helplessness, a lack of energy or difficulty remaining focused on or interested in certain aspects of your life.
Being specific can help make your depression less abstract for others and provide them with a more complete understanding of how your symptoms affect your daily life.
Talking about depression isn’t easy, and you aren’t obligated to discuss all of your feelings and concerns with someone just because they know you’re depressed.
Instead, it’s better to be selective with what you share. The experience of depression can be an emotional rollercoaster, and although it’s okay to open up completely if you feel comfortable, it’s also okay to keep some things to yourself.
If you’re preparing to talk to someone, try to decide beforehand what you’re comfortable talking about and what’s off-limits. If the person you’re talking to brings up something you don’t want to discuss, don’t feel afraid to let them know that you’d rather not talk about it right now.
Upon finding out that you’re depressed, it’s natural for your close friends and family members to want to help you. This is a great sign, as it shows that you have a network of supportive people who are there for you when life becomes difficult.
One of the best things that you can do for your close friends and family members is to tell them exactly what they can do to help you.
This could mean asking them to pick up the phone when you need someone to talk to, attend a therapy session with you or just spend time together regularly. Or, it could mean changing some aspects of your relationship, such as certain habits, to help you recover.
Be specific and try to give your friend or family member all of the information they need to assist you. Remember that they might not know what you need. By telling them, you make it easier for them to provide support and reduce the risk of misunderstandings.
Telling someone that you’re depressed is a major step, and there’s nothing wrong with practicing the conversation ahead of time.
If you feel nervous about talking to your friend, partner or family member about your depression, don’t feel hesitant to prepare notes that cover what you’d like to talk about, phrases you can use to describe how you feel, or anything else you think is relevant or helpful.
It’s also totally okay to practice certain parts of your conversation in your head or with yourself in the mirror before talking to a real person.
Discussing your depression with another person — even someone that’s close to you — can be a daunting experience, and a little preparation can make the experience far easier.
Depression can have a serious impact on your mental well-being, and having the right network of caring, supportive people around you can make managing your symptoms and making progress towards recovery an easier process.
If you’re suffering from depression and want to let other people know, use the techniques above to decide who to talk to and how to share your current mental health status.
If you aren’t receiving treatment for depression, it’s also important to reach out for help. You can do this by asking your primary care provider for a referral to a mental health professional in your area, or by scheduling an appointment directly with a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Depression can be challenging to deal with, but it does get better. From creating your support network to getting expert help, taking the right steps can make dealing with depression easier and help you to make real progress towards a happier, more fulfilling life.
Start your mental wellness journey today.