While millions of people are affected by emotional disorders (6.7% of the U.S. population alone is affected by major depressive disorder according to the National Institute of Mental Health), there are hundreds of millions more who have not experienced what it is like to be depressed. For those with depression, it can seem impossible to communicate what they are feeling to people who have not personally worked through depression. Having suffered major depressive disorder myself, I have attempted to describe my depression several times in the past only to receive the response: “I feel sad sometimes, too…”
“I know the difference!” I usually exclaim back, put out by my friend’s underwhelming answer.
With the desire to help people suffering from emotional disorders, I have compiled a list of suggestions for describing depression to clueless friends and family members:
Become Familiar With Your Depression
Before you can comfortably describe your depressed feelings to others, you must learn to understand them yourself. For those who have the means, nothing can beat a good counselor. A counselor will help you recognize and name your emotions, as well as provide a safe place to practice speaking about them. For those who do not have access to a counselor, there are self-help books that can guide you through this process. I used a book called, Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Put You in Control by Scott E. Spradlin. It contains exercises that helped me identify my negative thought cycles, among others.
Use a Thesaurus
It is difficult to precisely convey feelings. The word “sadness,” for instance, covers a wide range of emotions from the everyday doldrums, to grief over losing a family member or friend, to the unexplainable dread of depression. My counselor gave me a tool to help with this problem: a page full of synonyms that could be used to describe various emotions. The synonyms of “sad” included on this sheet are: depressed, dejected, despair, despondent, disappointed, discouraged, disheartened, forlorn, gloomy, heavy hearted, hopeless, melancholy, unhappy, and wretched. Every single one of these is more specific and explanatory than just, “sad.”
Describe Your Physical Symptoms Too
Often the symptoms of behavioral disorder manifest not just mentally, but physically. For instance, when I become depressed or anxious, I lose my appetite, which means that I lose weight. I experience nausea and shortness of breath. I have diarrhea (disgusting, but true). Not everyone has experienced depression, but very few people have never experienced physical illness. Describing your physical symptoms gives your friends and family something tangible to hold onto.
Share Comics and Blogs About Depression
There are people out there who have already experienced depression and found a successful way to communicate their experiences with it. For instance, Hyperbole and a Half’s “Adventures in Depression.” Or “The Spoon Theory” by Christine Miserandino. And there are many more where those came from: books, articles, blogs, songs, you name it. They can all be used to help you explain yourself.
It is very likely that your friends and family want to understand and want to help you. However, they might be afraid that they will do or say something wrong. Tell them that it is okay for them to ask questions, and try to give them ideas of what they can do to help you.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to share your feelings with your loved ones. More people than you might think will be able and willing to empathize.