While being diagnosed with depression is a far more common thing than you may imagine, acknowledging that you have a mental illness may not be an easy pill to swallow. For many, however, finally having some understanding about why they feel the way they do is a great relief and find it comforting to have a name for what they are experiencing. Despite this fact, depression and other mental illnesses still carry negative stigma with them.
Mental illness in general is often misunderstood, and so too are diagnoses such as depression. As a result, people often find it difficult to decide whether they should disclose the fact that they are struggling with the illness and, if they do disclose, who should they disclose to? Some people are fortunate to have loving and supportive spouses or family members, while others feel less supported and don’t believe that their partner or family will understand and accept the diagnosis. In these cases, clients have been found to keep their diagnosis and their treatment to themselves and choosing not to share with the significant others in their lives. Dealing with depression on your own can make the process so much harder and often healing is actually faster when the person has stable support around them. In this sense, it is important, where possible, to mobilise the support available to you.
Of course there are different people that you may consider telling about your illness – your partner, your parents, your kids and even your employer. Perhaps you decide to tell all of them, or perhaps you choose to disclose only to a few. The decision in many ways will be based on whether it is appropriate to tell them and what you gauge their response will be like.
Telling an employer can be a risky thing and it is not legally required unless your depression is actually affecting your work performance. On the other hand, having your employer understand what you are experiencing may also pave the way for you to get time off required to attend counselling sessions and other appointments. In the same way, telling a spouse or family members about your diagnosis may not be as easy as it seems, particularly if they have had little contact with mental health in general. In any case make sure that you also chose the right moment to talk about this with your family. Someone’s birthday party may not be the appropriate arena for this type of conversation.
Make sure you have some facts ready and are prepared to answer questions about depression when people look as if they don’t quite understand. Knowing the facts around the symptoms and the treatment is a useful place to start. Make sure that you are as honest about your experience as possible so that you allow those that are close to you the opportunity to empathise and understand what this means for you. Mobilising support in this way may very well be the best thing you can do for yourself.
Clinical Psychologist Annabelle Young has extensive experience in working with people with depression, anxiety (including panic), adjustment difficulties, stress, trauma, PTSD, bipolar disorder, low self-esteem, grief and loss, interpersonal difficulties, as well as alcohol and drug use issues.