I spent a year of my life introducing myself to others, even complete strangers, as someone who is mentally ill. Talk about an icebreaker! It opened up a lot of conversations about mental health, which is something I'm passionate about. However, this isn't something that I encourage everyone to run out and start doing, particularly because it feels stigmatizing to me and I believe in using "people-first" language. But it is important to have people that you can talk to about your depression. The important part is determining what to share and who to share with. Here is my who, what, why, and when of sharing.
Tell your inner circle
Who they are: Everyone's inner circle may look a little different. It could be made up of close family members like your spouse, sibling, or parents. Or it could include a few close friends. The people in your circle are the people who know you the best. They are the people you trust completely. There's a good chance that these people can tell that you are struggling with something even if you don't tell them.
Why you should tell them: When you are struggling with depression it's important to have people who can support you through it. These are the people who are going to check in on you when they haven't heard from you in a while. They are the people who can see through when you're trying to plaster on a fake smile to pretend that you're doing alright. If you're starting on any medication like anti-depressants, it's also important that those close to you are aware of it. Some medication can have adverse side effects, like suicidal thoughts. Until you find the right medication and dosage, you want those in your inner circle helping to watch out for you. They might spot an issue when you aren't able to.
What you should share: When it comes to your inner circle, determining what to share depends on what you are comfortable sharing with each individual. You might be willing to share all the details with your significant other but only certain things with a close friend. Trust your gut when it comes to what you share with those closest to you.
Other people who need to know
Who they are: Based on your situation, this job could include some family members or friends and your employer.
Why you should tell them: If you have family members whom you deal with on a regular basis, you might need to share a little bit with them. Depression can make it difficult to function in the same ways that you have previously. There are some relationships in your life you could damange by not letting people know what's going on. If your depression is impacting your ability to complete your work at the same level you have in the past, you will need to make your employer aware of what you're dealing with. A diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means you can request your employer to make some accommodations for you, so long as they are reasonable. Speak with the human resources department at your place of employment.
What you should share: It's important to remember that just because these people might fall into your "need to know" group, it doesn't mean you need to share everything with them. You may need to share your diagnosis with the human resources department and/or your boss, but that doesn't mean you need to share it with all your coworkers. It also doesn't mean you need to share all the details with your family and friends. Instead, you can say things like "I'm going through a tough time right now" or "I'm dealing with some stuff right now."
When you should share about depression
When you decide to share depends on who you are talking to. As soon as you know you are struggling with depression, you should share with those in your inner circle. If you are sharing with your employer, you may choose to wait until you have an official diagnosis, but you don't need to. The people that you are closest to should know what you are struggling with so they can know how to help you.
If you suffer from depression, you will need to carefully weigh when you tell the people you are building relationships with. For example, this might not be a conversation that you want to have on a first date. But it all comes down to your comfort level. If you aren't sharing too many personal details, you might be comfortable opening up with others about your depression.
Those you shouldn't tell
Most of us have those people in our life that seem to attract drama. They always know what the latest gossip is and are more than happy to share with you. Remember, if they are willing to gossip to you, they are also willing to gossip about you to others. I'd advise you not to share your situation with these people. Here are a few signs that you should not share details of your depression with someone:
- They broke your trust in the past.
- They are a "know-it-all" who is going to tell you exactly what they think you should do.
- You've just met them or don't really know them at all.
- They make everything about themselves.
Fighting the stigma
Even though there has been progress in recent years, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health. The shame that goes with the stigma can make it difficult to share what you are going through with others. However, you can overcome this stigma, and part of doing this is being able to talk about it without feeling ashamed.
On a final note, I didn't mention talking to a therapist above, but it's not because I don't believe in the importance of doing so. If you are suffering from depression and haven't spoken with a therapist, I urge you to do that immediately. If you aren't sure whether you are feeling depressed or think you are just feeling "down" or "not like yourself," I encourage you to reach out to a local therapist.
There is something uniquely helpful about talking to a professional who is not someone you know in your daily life. A professional will keep your information confidential, which can make it easier to open up and share with them. They can also help guide you in who to share with and how much to share. Don't delay in reaching out for the help you need. A professional is trained to help when your friends and family might not know what to do.
See more helpful articles:
10 Depression Myths That Fuel Stigma
How to Keep It Together When Your World Is Falling Apart
7 Ways to Beat Mental Health Stigma in the Black Community