So, you’ve received the big clinical depression diagnosis. On one hand, it’s probably relieving to learn that the emotional pain you feel can be explained by an imbalance in your brain. On the other, you might be afraid of what people will think when they find out.
You want to tell your friends you’re depressed so they can finally understand what’s been going on with you. But the thought of sharing such a personal secret can be scary.
Will they judge you? Will they understand at all?
How do you know if you can trust the people you tell? Will they turn around and use your depression against you? Will they judge you?
These are all important questions to consider as you decide to “come out” to friends about your mental health status.
The Mental Health Stigma
When you live with mental illness, psychiatric hospitalization is a very real possibility. I understand this reality because a few weeks ago, my depression sent me to the psychiatric hospital for the second time.
I was amazed to learn how easily the other patients and I could open up with each other about our mental illnesses. We could all relate to one another, and there was never judgment because we all understood the complexities of mental illness.
But in the real world, society’s stigmas about mental illness make telling friends about depression a scary thing to do. People could become uncomfortable, pass judgment or even try to minimize your illness.
Throughout time, society has passed down beliefs that depression isn’t real, that it’s a cry for attention and that depressed people are weak. Sharing your illness with those who carry these beliefs could result in invalidation and pain.
However, you very well could receive sympathy. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans suffer from mental illness. As more people are diagnosed with depression, there’s more public knowledge about the condition, and stigmas are slowly beginning to break down.
You might even find out that one of your friends is battling mental illness, too. You won’t know until you tell.
Sure, you could just keep the whole thing a secret, but for how long? Living with secret depression can be lonely, and it can even make your condition worse. Sharing your mental illness diagnosis with others you trust can conversely be therapeutic because the burden is no longer yours to bear alone in secret.
Making the Decision to Tell Your Friends
There should be at least one person you can talk to about your depression, whether it’s a family member, close friend or therapist. Being able to talk about your feelings is an important part of the healing process. Sure, opening up might feel scary. But it can’t be as scary as facing depression all on your own.
Ultimately, it’s your decision whether or not to tell your friends you’re depressed. You’ll want to make sure you choose the right person or people and decide how best to break the news.
When you decide you’re ready to share your diagnosis, think carefully about how you want to do it before making the leap.
Decide Who to Tell
You probably don’t want to shout your depression from the rooftops and share it with every single person in your life. Of course, if that’s what you want to do, have at it! However, it’s easiest to start with just one trusted person.
This will help you gain confidence about sharing your diagnosis and it’ll give you good practice in answering questions. The first person you tell can become your ally and help you share the news with others, if you choose to do so.
They can also be a contact point to discuss your fears about sharing with others and can offer insight on how others might perceive the news.
Here are some ideas of people you might want to tell first:
- Your best friend
- A therapist
- A trusted teacher
- Your parent
- A sibling
- Your significant other
If you still feel way beyond your comfort zone, start by talking to a pet, like a dog. It’s silly, yes, but it’s also a good way to practice the way you’ll say things. You don’t have to worry about being judged.
How to Break the News
This is the hardest part, and it will be different for each individual. Following these steps might help your discussion move in a positive direction:
1. Make a Date
Tell the person you want to talk about something personal. Set a place and time so you can sit down together without distractions and have a meaningful discussion. Make a coffee date or invite them over to your house where you feel safe.
2. Be Straightforward
Once you’re together, don’t waste time beating around the bush. Just come out and say it. Simply tell your trusted person that you’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression and tell them why you’re sharing.
3. Give Them Space in the Conversation
Give them time to process the information. You don’t have to keep speaking the whole time. Allow room for them to ask you questions and answer them to the best of your ability.
4. Prepare Resources
Prepare in advance by searching out websites and infographics that will help them better understand depression and how they can help you.
5. You’re Still You
Remind your friend that despite your diagnosis, you’re still the same person they know and love. Explain to them how you’re treating your symptoms and that depression isn’t something that makes you abnormal or flawed.
6. Ask for Help
Identify specific ways for your friend to support you and communicate them clearly. Often, people close to us care deeply about our depression but don’t know how they can help. You might ask them to support you as you tell others or help you notice changes in your behavior.
7. Move On
After you’ve shared your depression with your friend and had a meaningful conversation, allow yourselves to move on to another topic.
It’s important to help them realize that your depression doesn’t have to dominate the friendship. You’re still the friend they’ve always had.
Tips for Telling Your Friends You’re Depressed
- Discern which friends you feel close enough with to share these personal details. Others who you know on a much lighter basis don’t necessarily need to know about your depression because it’s rare that they’ll be in touch with that part of your life.
- Give them tools to help you out. By supplying your friends with a list of crisis numbers and mental health learning resources, you’ll be getting them involved with you. It will feel less like it’s all about you, and more like you’re working as a team.
- Be prepared to patiently answer questions. Your friends might not know much about mental health and depression, so they may need to learn a bit before they can be fully supportive. Notice when they make an effort to help you and answer their questions with patience.
When Not to Tell Your Friends About Depression
- If you’re already feeling lonely or ignored in a group of people, telling them you’re depressed isn’t going to make them suddenly pay attention to you. Instead, it’s better to look for other trusted people you can talk to.
- When someone else in your friends group comes out saying that they have depression, don’t try to jump in and add yours and lessen their moment. Save your share for another time and allow your friend to receive the attention they’re needing right now. Perhaps this person could be a good starting point for sharing your depression another time.
- Don’t wait until it’s too late. If it comes to the point where your life is in danger, definitely reach out for help. However, sharing your condition with trusted people before that point will help you have a support system to avoid suicidal thoughts.
Adjust Your Expectations
With all the advice in the world, telling your friends you’re depressed can still be terrifying. At some point, you need to share this news with someone.
Your best bet is to plan who you’ll share with in advance and come up with a plan. Listen to your gut about who you can trust and realize that not everyone will react in a supportive way.
Remember that stigmas about mental health disorders skew the views of many people, even those close to you.
If you receive a hurtful reaction from a close one, you can either try to teach them more about the reality of mental illness, or you can decide not to include them in your life. Don’t allow someone else’s misconceptions to bear weight on your legitimate depression diagnosis.
Helpful Resources for Friends
Depression: Supporting a family member or friend – Mayo Clinic
Helping Someone With Depression – HelpGuide
Depression: Tips for Family and Friends – WebMD