Even though the World Health Organization states that about 350 million people all over the world live with depression, it doesn't make it any easier to deal with. This mental illness is extremely common and treatable, but it can still be overwhelming to admit to yourself that you might have it... and even more overwhelming to decide how to tell your partner you have depression. It doesn't help that so many people say uninformed and downright ignorant things in an attempt to "cure" you. But if you have a hunch that you might really be depressed, it's actually a good idea to tell your S.O. about it. They might end up helping you through your illness more than you ever thought possible.
Before I was officially diagnosed with depression, I was deep in denial about my mental illness. Sure, I had pretty much every symptom that would indicate I was depressed, but I was also fearful of appearing weak... even to myself. Even more terrifying was the prospect of admitting my illness to my partner. I knew he loved me, but would all that change after he realized I was sick? Would he, like so many other people before him, believe the stereotypes about depression? Or worse, would he believe that I was making it all up to justify my lethargic, ho-hum behavior?
At first, it wasn't easy to tell my partner about my depression. He didn't realize that the symptoms that were controlling my life (headaches, constant exhaustion, and a serious lack of motivation, to name a few) were all connected. All he saw was that the woman he loved had completely transformed into someone who just wanted to sleep all the time and had lost all interest in everything else. I was frequently angry, sometimes sad, and often apathetic. Basically, I was not a dating prospect I'd recommend to anyone I cared about, and my relationship was falling apart as a result of it. My S.O. finally sat me down and told me that if I wanted this relationship to work, I'd get my sulky arse to a doctor, and because I loved him, I did. Luckily, he is now my biggest ally in fighting off this pesky illness, and our relationship has even grown stronger as a result of it. It's like finding a pot of gold at the end of a dark, fun-sucking rainbow.
If you find yourself in that tough position of having to tell your partner about your depression, you should do yourself a favor and go about it better than I did. Sitting down and having that difficult conversation with your S.O. might scare you, but in the long run, it will help you strengthen your relationship and bring you another step closer to feeling like your old self.
1. Explain Exactly What You're Feeling (Or Not Feeling)
Depression can make you feel sad, angry, hopeless, or simply nothing at all. It can also manifest in physical symptoms, which can exacerbate your emotional problems even more. When you tell your partner that you're depressed, make sure you're specific in explaining what you're going through.
A common misconception about depression is that it's just like being sad, so your partner might believed that you're just bummed out when you're really going through something much more serious. Telling your partner your symptoms will also help explain those days where you just can't bring yourself to be excited about something you really "should" be excited about, or the moments when you find yourself inexplicably angry. The more your S.O. understands about what you're going through, the easier it will be for both of you to make it through your depression with your relationship intact.
2. Be Prepared For Questions And Have Research Available
Some people will take the phrase, "I'm depressed," and understand exactly what you mean. Others might have a harder time comprehending exactly what you're trying to tell them. Having all your research ready will help your partner understand that you are not the only person who constantly feels tired and gets physical symptoms in addition to your emotional symptoms. It can also help them see that this isn't just you being perpetually "bummed out;" Depression can cause serious physical health problems if left untreated.
In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health has discovered that people with depression are four times as likely to have a heart attack than people without the disorder. Even though your partner should obviously trust you enough to take your word for how you're feeling, it can still be reassuring for them that this is a very common and manageable (though potentially serious) illness
3. Find A Comic Or Illustration That Describes How You're Feeling
Depression feels different from person to person, so the way you visualize your experience may be vastly different from the way other people "see" their depression. There are lots of awesome comics about depression floating around out there, so you can probably find one that you can show your partner to help them understand how you feel on a day-to-day basis. My personal favorite is this one by artist Sylvie Reuter, which depicts depression as the way I've always visualized it: a dark creature that varies in size and just kind of hangs around and makes your life suck. The movie The Babadook also does a fantastic job portraying grief and depression as a scary monster if you and your partner are willing to be sufficiently creeped out for a couple of hours. Whether you also have a creature that likes to chill on your shoulder or you see your depression as something else, I guarantee there's an illustration out there that can help your partner understand at least a small part of what you're going through.
4. Explain What They Can Do To Help You
When I told my partner about my depression, he later told me that he felt utterly helpless... especially because I was part of the 66 percent of people with depression who wasn't actively seeking treatment for my condition. You and your S.O. are a team, which means that even if you're going to be your own hero in the fight against depression, it's good to ask for a little help from your sidekick. You know yourself best, so tell your partner what they could do to help you get through this. Whether it's just leaving you alone on particularly hard days, helping you find a therapist, or giving you some tough love and making you get ready for the day (as I asked my partner to do), there's bound to be something that will help you get better and also make your S.O. feel useful at the same time.
5. Compare It With Something They Can Relate To
Because we can't see depression like we can see flu symptoms or a broken wrist, it can be hard for people who don't have it to understand that what we're going through is extremely difficult to live with... and unfortunately, it's one of the reasons why people don't take mental illness in general as seriously as they should. If your partner can't comprehend why you feel fine one day and can't convince yourself to get out of bed the next day, explain to them that depression is kind of like having a perpetual cold — some days, it's just a runny nose that's annoying, but tolerable as you go about your day. Some days, it's so unbearable that you can't even remember a time when your nostrils weren't clogged and you had the energy to roll over in bed. And some days, your medicine works so well that you ask yourself, "What cold?"
But no matter how bad your "cold" is, it doesn't define you as a person. You're not naturally a snotty-nosed, phlegmy-lunged human being--- you're just sick. When you explain your depression as an illness your partner has experienced before, they're more likely to understand that the symptoms they're seeing you exhibit aren't you, but rather the effects that your illness is having on you.
6. Be Open With Them About It
Even though it's nothing to be ashamed of, lots of people avoid talking about their depression because it makes them feel weak. However, being open about depression both with yourself and with your significant other is crucial to your own healing and making sure your partner is always in the loop about your mental health. That's not to say you need to talk about your depression every second of your life, of course — you just need to be open about it if it comes up. My partner and I sometimes joke about the creature on my shoulder coming along on trips uninvited, pretending to rip it off my shoulder and throw it out of the car window. It would be much easier if it really were that easy to rid myself of my depression, but at least for the moment, it helps lighten the mood and acknowledges the creature on my shoulder so it doesn't become an elephant in the room.
7. Have Them Go To Therapy With You
But only if you want them there, of course. Having your partner come to a therapy session with you can help both of you out in a lot of ways. First, hearing a professional's opinion might help your partner understand your issue more than your own explanation. Therapists deal with plenty of clients just like you every day, so even though every case is unique, they'll be able to reassure your partner that they can help you. Secondly, a licensed therapist will be able to give your partner advice on how they can help you, even if you believe you've thought of every way your S.O. could be the best sidekick in the world. And of course, having your partner come with you to at least one therapy session will really solidify the concept of you two being a team and remind both of you that you're in this together.
Images: Sophia D. Photography/ Flickr; Giphy (7)