How Do I Explain Depression?

Posted on September 1, 2021 by Cheryl K, LCSW, CEO, Co-founder and Partner
A man explaining his depression to a loved one.

If you’ve ever dealt with depression, you know that explaining your feelings isn’t easy — especially to people who are lucky enough to have never experienced feeling depressed. Not being able to convey your emotions can lead to you feeling even more alone and isolated. It’s important to know that you are not alone. In fact, more than 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression.

In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into depression, its symptoms, and how to explain depression to your loved ones so they can better understand what you’re feeling and how to be there for you.

Depression is Not Just Feeling Sad: Explaining Depression

One of the worst things that can happen when we try to come forward with our feelings is having people downplay them and say something like, “well, everybody gets sad!” This is why explaining that depression is not just sadness is a critical first step.

Sadness is a normal emotion and generally comes about when something bad happens. Sadness usually goes away after a few days. But, depression is a persistent sadness that can last for weeks, months, or years. Depression’s impact is much more significant than that of sadness and can change your personality, interests, how you view the future, and it can even impact your memory.

With sadness, most people can continue their daily routines and responsibilities. But, depression makes it hard and even impossible to get out of bed, bathe, prepare and eat proper meals, etc. It can also be extremely challenging to focus on work, school, and other tasks when you’re feeling thoughts of despair or like there’s no point in trying.

Explaining Depression in Broad Terms

First, you should try to explain depression broadly. For example, mention that it is a mental illness that negatively impacts how you feel, think, and act. Then, explain that the good news is that the condition is treatable. This is a good opportunity to explain some of the symptoms of depression to them and how it impacts different areas of life.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

It’s important to remember that depression symptoms can present as feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Feelings that are frequently caused by depression include:

  • Sadness
  • Misery
  • Despair
  • Hopelessness
  • Unhappiness
  • Irritability
  • Overwhelm
  • Guilt
  • Frustration
  • Lacking confidence
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Disappointment

Thoughts caused by depression include:

  • “I’m a failure.”
  • “Everything is my fault.”
  • “There is nothing good in my life.”
  • “Nothing good ever happens to me.”
  • “I am worthless.”
  • “Things will never change.”
  • “Life is not worth living.”
  • “My loved ones would be better off without me.”

Behavioral symptoms of depression include:

  • Withdrawing from friends
  • No longer doing usual activities you love
  • Stop leaving the house
  • Not getting things done at work or school
  • Relying on alcohol, marijuana, and/or sedatives to “get by”

Physical symptoms of depression include:

  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Frequent stomach and headaches
  • Feeling sick and ‘run down’
  • Loss or change of appetite
  • A constantly churning gut
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Significant weight loss or gain

Explaining Depression in Personal Terms

Once you’ve established an overview of depression, share some personal antidotes for how it has impacted your life.

You could talk about how you no longer enjoy doing things you love. For example, maybe your best friend and doubles partner is mad at you because you’ve flaked on the past two tennis tournaments.

If you take the time to explain to her that your depression has caused you to lose interest and even dread tennis, she’ll be a lot more understanding and supportive. You could also mention how it’s hard to get out of bed on most days; you have crying outbursts, suicidal thoughts, and any other symptoms you’ve been experiencing.

Adding this perusal testimony will make the illness seem a lot more real and tangible to your loved ones than merely reading a textbook definition.

Here are some other common misconceptions to touch on:

“No, I can’t just snap out of it”

A myth about depression is that all people need to do to cure it is to “snap out of it.” People with depression know that this is not possible. Explain that you can’t just snap out of depression, no matter how hard you want to or try. You can tell them how depression feels like a constant battle and that it is exhausting, but you are trying your best to get through it.

“I don’t have to have or know the exact reason I’m depressed”

Upon disclosing depression to people, especially a spouse or parent, a common response is, “you have a great life! What are you depressed about?” The truth is, depression is not black and white, and you don’t always have to have a “reason” why you’re feeling depressed.

While it’s true that depression can be triggered by life events, like a death, divorce, or job loss, there doesn’t always have to be a reason.

“Depression is not a choice”

Nobody chooses to be depressed. Especially when you consider the fact that it can impact so many aspects of life, from school to work and personal relationships. Try to explain that you do not choose to be in a bad or low mood all of the time and that depression is out of your control and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

“I am not trying to hurt you or seeking attention”

Another hurtful myth about depression is that people claim they are depressed to make others feel guilty or hurt or to get attention. While it’s true that it can be hard for your loved ones to watch you suffer from depression and it can even be challenging for them to understand what you’re going through, you should tell them that this is something that’s beyond your control and not to “hurt them.” Say that you understand that it can be hard to love someone with depression, but their support and caring, and unconditional love at this time is one of the best things they can do for you.

“I’m not ‘just grieving’”

Although we mentioned that death could certainly lead to depression, it’s important to know (and explain to others) that grief and depression are not the same thing. In grief, feelings come in waves that are usually mixed with positive memories. But, in depression, mood and interest decrease for about two weeks. This mood drop is typically constant during the two weeks.

How to Help Someone with Depression

If a friend or family member is dealing with depression, the best thing you can do is be there for

them. Put all judgment and preconceived notions aside and embrace them fully during this difficult time. Let them know you are there for them when they need a friend or someone to vent to. Remind them that they are loved, valued, and special to you and the world

If your loved one is struggling severely and you’re worried about their well-being, they may need to seek professional treatment. The good news is that depression is treatable, and therapy and medication can help depressed people reclaim their lives and their happiness. Therapy teaches coping skills, and each client is given an individualized care plan based on their unique case.

Corner Canyon’s mental health & addiction recovery center in Utah has world-class programs and therapists. We offer inpatient therapy for depression — inpatient treatment has been proven as one of the most effective methods of treatment. The methods allow clients to give their full focus to recovery while creating new support systems and learning healthy coping skills. For more information, please call us, we are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Click Here To Learn More About Our Treatment for Depression