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How to Explain Depression to a Loved One Who Doesn’t Understand

“Why are you acting like this?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“What happened to the person I married?”

None of those questions are comfortable to hear from your spouse or another loved one, but they can be particularly hard to bear if you are suffering from depression.

Depression affects many individuals and families in debilitating and sometimes even devastating ways, but one of the most difficult things about it is that it is so highly personal to each person who suffers from it — and such a mystery to many of the people who do not.

Explaining depression to a spouse can be hard. It can be frustrating. It can be embarrassing. And it can dredge up feelings of shame or failure, especially when you are trying to explain why you feel the way you feel — which you may not even know — or if you have contemplated suicide.

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for how people experience depression, there is no one single perfect method for how to explain depression to someone. Some people prefer to have a face-to-face conversation, and others are more comfortable writing a letter or email. But the important thing to remember is that making an effort at explaining depression to others can help them understand the way you feel, and it can help them know how to best give you love and support as you work through your mental illness and seek help for it.

Like other forms of mental illness, depression is difficult for people to understand because many of the symptoms are behavioral rather than physical. But remember that the way you feel and the things going on in your mind are no less real. Having depression is not a weakness or a failure; mental illness is just as real as physical illness, and it should be taken just as seriously by those who love you.

We at The Phoenix Recovery and Counseling Centers hope the following information will be helpful to everyone looking for ideas for explaining depression to a spouse or other loved ones.

Explaining depression in broad terms

To start off explaining depression to someone who doesn’t understand it, it can help if you can define what it is and how it can affect people in general.

Depression is not the same as sadness
Everyone has a bad day now and again or may feel extreme sadness from time to time. But sadness and other unpleasant emotions usually pass through the mind and disappear, while depression lingers for weeks or more. And beyond just impacting the way you feel, depression also carries a wide variety of symptoms that can affect day-to-day life at home, work or school.

Symptoms of depression
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following as symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad or anxious often or all the time
  • Not wanting to do activities that used to be fun
  • Feeling irritable‚ easily frustrated‚ or restless
  • Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Waking up too early or sleeping too much
  • Eating more or less than usual or having no appetite
  • Experiencing aches, pains, headaches, or stomach problems that do not improve with treatment
  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
  • Feeling tired‚ even after sleeping well
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • Thinking about suicide or hurting yourself

Anyone can experience depression
Depression can affect any person at any age. Some factors are genetic, biological or environmental, but that’s not always the case. Major life changes can also trigger depression, even if they weren’t unexpected. According to the CDC, these are a few possible triggers for depression:

  • Having a baby
  • Death of a loved one
  • Financial problems
  • Health challenges
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Medications

Depression is widespread
According to the CDC, approximately 16 million adult Americans are affected by depression each year, and approximately 1 in 6 people will have depression at some point during their life.

Explaining depression in personal terms

How to describe depression on a personal level can be much more difficult than explaining depression broadly, because it involves trying to tell the person you love exactly what is going on in your mind, or explaining how tired you feel, or how you can’t find motivation to do things you used to love, or whatever you are experiencing. It’s also hard because thoughts that accompany depression are often irrational and can tap into your insecurities and fears, which can make you feel vulnerable in sharing them.

Describing your depression to someone who doesn’t have experience with mental illness is further complicated because on some level they may never understand what you’re going through. This can lead people to offer advice that, while well meant, isn’t helpful or even applicable to combating depression, such as to “Just be positive” or “Push through it.” Remember, depression isn’t just a state of mind; it’s a mental illness that needs care and treatment such as therapy or medication, or both, to bring about recovery.

Be patient as you explain your experience with depression to other people. It can be a good idea to set up a time to talk about your mental health when you and your loved one can devote your full attention to it, and when you have your thoughts organized so you can communicate clearly. Writing down your feelings at a time when you’re in the midst of feeling depressed can give you something concrete to draw on later in your discussion.

Empower your loved one to help you

When you’re thinking about how to explain depression and anxiety to your husband, wife or other loved one, make sure you consider ways the ones you love can help you to care for yourself and your mental health.

First, note that people try to help those they love in whatever way they think best, but with depression it can be difficult to know what to do. Here are a few ideas for ways a loved one may be able to help you:

  • Reaffirm their love for you and your importance to them and others who love you
  • Challenge your negative thought patterns
  • Encourage you to re-engage with hobbies and friends you used to enjoy
  • Remind you to be kind to yourself
  • Celebrate the small victories, even if it’s just getting out of bed
  • Ask you how you’re feeling and check in regularly
  • Be an advocate for you, helping with explaining depression to others
  • Help your fulfill your responsibilities around the home and to your family and loved ones
  • Be your cheerleader as you seek professional help

On that last point, another thing about struggling with your mental health is that you may know how you would like to be treated but not what will help you toward finding peace and recovery. That’s why, as with any other health challenge, it’s important to seek out a medical professional to help you get treatment. If that’s the case, consider these points in your discussion with a loved one:

  • Do you need help finding a doctor and setting an appointment?
  • Would you like someone to go with you to your appointment?
  • Do you need someone to watch your kids or home so you can go?
  • Do you need someone to encourage you to go and help you to get there?
  • What other hurdles do you need help overcoming on your way to getting help?

Explaining depression to a spouse, family member or other loved one is difficult, but their understanding and support can have an incredible impact toward helping you on your journey toward healing. We at The Phoenix Recovery and Counseling Centers wish you all the best with this important conversation and everything that follows.

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