Should You Tell People That You Have Depression?

You don’t have to tell people about your major depression. But you don’t have to keep it to yourself, either. Before you share your diagnosis, consider the following facts.

It may come as a relief to know that there’s a diagnosis for what you’re feeling. Butmajor depression may not be something you want everyone in your life to know about.

Depression can leave you feeling alone and isolated. This was certainly true for Chicago-based Dianne Morr, who has been living with a long-term form of persistent depression called dysthymia as well as occasional major depression, for more than 20 years.

For a long time, Morr told only immediate family about her depression. But once she started opening up about it with more people in her life, the more comfortable she felt talking about it.

Morr began sharing her depression diagnosis slowly. “I started to mention it to a couple of friends, and their reactions were so encouraging,” Morr says. “I began to feel a calling because I have a talent for public speaking, and now I have this knowledge and experience to help others and let them know they’re not alone.”

Morr started by speaking to groups of young mothers and caregivers, who can be at risk for depression. She discovered a passion for studying, writing, and speaking about positive psychology. Now she’s a keynote speaker and author of the bookChoose Happy: 25 Happiness Habits to Transform Your Life.

Starting a Conversation About Depression

Making the decision to talk to people in your life about your depression is a big step, says Anthony J. Rothschild, MD, a psychiatry professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. “In some ways, it’s similar to how people might feel about telling others about any medical illness, but it may be a little more difficult for something like depression because not everyone may fully understand it,” he says.

First, know that you don’t need to talk about your depression with others unless you want to. Once you decide that you’re ready to share your situation, there are different ways to start the conversation. When it comes to your closest loved ones, you could bring up something they have witnessed in you — such as a loss of appetite or a decline in your energy level — and explain that it was a symptom of depression, Dr. Rothschild says.

When telling others beyond those closest to you, you might start by asking if they know anyone with depression. “Often people do, and you can get a sense of how they feel about it and how comfortable you’ll feel telling them,” Rothschild says. If you feel good enough to keep going, you can share that you’ve been struggling with depression yourself.

To Tell or Not to Tell That You Have Depression

Now that you know how to begin the conversation, use these suggestions to decide who to tell about your depression and when:

Family members you live with. Rothschild recommends telling the people you live with about your depression because they may have observed and be worried about your symptoms. Knowing your diagnosis will help them understand and perhaps help you navigate your depression together. “In my experience over the years, people feel better and do better when they tell their family about their depression,” he says.

Friends. It’s important to have people you’re close to that you can confide in, so choose to tell friends you know you can talk with about your depression. A friend who isn’t as understanding and supportive might make you feel worse and probably doesn’t need to know. For example, friends who tend to be judgmental of others or think depression is something you can “snap out of” may not be the best choices to share such information with.

Relatives. Like your friends, pick and choose relatives who are supportive. Although most people today have a good understanding of depression, “unfortunately some part of the population thinks it’s a weakness of moral character or laziness,” Rothschild says. If you suspect someone feels this way, keep your diagnosis to yourself.

Children. If you’re a parent, there may not be much advantage to telling children who are too young to understand, but an older child may benefit from knowing what’s going on and that depression can be treated. As your children get older, it’s also important for them to know their family history of health conditions. Make the decision based on your particular situation and your child’s maturity, Rothschild says.

Your employer. Medical issues like depression are private matters and don’t need to be shared with your employer. In rare cases, people may need to take a medical leave to treat a serious depression and will need medical documentation from their doctor. But even in those cases, your employer won’t be privy to the details, Rothschild says. Know, too, that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from being discriminated against at work if they have a disability. This includes a mental health condition such as major depressive disorder, according to the ADA National Network. For more information, review the “Americans with Disabilities Act Question and Answers” booklet from the ADA.

Your co-workers. Confide in those colleagues you trust and who you believe will be supportive. Morr says she opened up to a couple of co-workers who she worried might have depression themselves, and they appreciated her reaching out. However, she kept her diagnosis to herself around management. “If managers saw me as disabled, it would affect the way they viewed me and my work,” she says.

Other doctors. There are no disadvantages to telling your other doctors about your diagnosis. This is especially true if you’re taking medication because you need to avoid any negative interactions with other prescriptions.

Remember that depression is a treatable condition, Rothschild says. Work with your doctor, stick to your treatment plan, and lean on supportive friends and family members. If and when you decide to open up about your depression is up to you.

Last Updated: 4/21/2016

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