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5 Ways To Explain Your Depression or Anxiety To Those Who Don’t Have It

“Everyone that I know doesn’t understand how hard it is having to deal with depression and anxiety: my own family doesn’t give out the support that I need. What should I do?”

Depression and anxiety are two common mental illnesses (globally about 350 million people have depression, and anxiety globally impacts 1 in every 13 people) that manifest in multiple ways specific to each person, while maintaining certain general symptoms. Because such a large amount of people are diagnosed with depression and anxiety worldwide, it is crucial to their wellbeing that friends and family make efforts to understand what they are going through. It is incredibly brave to be proactive towards understanding your mental illness- telling your loved ones can definitely be a scary step. At this point in time, no one should have to explain their mental health issues to family and friends at such a descriptive level, but regardless, here are 5 approaches that will hopefully help your loved ones understand your mental illnesses while changing their views concerning mental health.

  1. Describe exactly what your mental illness entails: By no means do you have to memorize tons of statistics and scientific facts to inform your loved ones with, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to explain how it feels for you. How frequent are your panic attacks (if you have any) and how do they make you feel? What symptoms do you have that allowed you to understand you have depression? Engaging in an open dialogue with those closest to you is key in this situation.  The people you are explaining this to love you very much, and telling them how much you are suffering from mental illnesses will be an easier process when you tell them absolutely everything you are going through. I would recommend telling your closest friends (or people you feel the most comfortable with) first and then moving on to your parents (or those you are the least comfortable with). This way, you are able to fully explain your mental illness multiple times before you get to the people who are hardest to talk to. You could write a long letter to your family that elaborates on the details, or direct them to online resources if the face to face approach is too anxiety inducing.
  2. Explain possible options for treatment: If you are a minor and your parents/legal guardians are not actively trying to help you with treatment options, explain what could happen to you if you do not receive it. Most people who have never suffered from a mental illness truly do not understand how quickly mild mental illnesses can escalate into catastrophe. Ask to see a doctor and have them come with you- this way, you can discuss treatment options that your parents consent to. This also shows that you are being responsible and trying to get better, which can unfortunately be one of the only reasons parents allow treatment. Do your own research beforehand, so you fully understand the potential side effects of certain prescription medicines along with the resources for therapy in your local area. Research beforehand will make your experience finding treatment less stressful because you can go into it knowing what is most likely the best treatment approach for you.
  3. Tell your loved ones how they can help: Direct them to articles that cover this topic (one is listed below) or simply tell them what you would personally benefit from. For example, encourage them to do research on their own about what your mental illnesses are or ask them to order for you in restaurants sometimes. For people with anxiety, small things like this can majorly alleviate a potential problem that was real and threatening to them. Keep the people you tell included in both your struggles and your triumphs, so they know how to help you when you need it and can further grasp the layers of your mental illness.
  4. Make it clear that your mental illness is not their fault (nor is it yours): A common response from parents of kids with mental illnesses is guilt. Parents typically want their children to be happy, and if they are not, they often perceive their discontentment to be a reflection of their parenting. This can be a main reason lots of parents deny the fact that their kids are mentally ill- they do not want to deal with the (usually wrong) idea that they failed as parents. Moreover, this phenomenon means that you will probably benefit from telling your loved ones that this is no one’s distinctive fault whatsoever. Not yours, not theirs.
  5. Try again if you need to: Too many people with mental illnesses have to do this, but in some circumstances, it just might be the only way to make your loved ones comprehend how important it is to you that they understand the validity of your illness. Even if your loved ones do not initially believe you, understand that your health is a priority and never stop pushing for your chance to get better: you deserve it.

It may take a few tries for them to truly get it, but it really is better to tell your parents about your mental illness constantly than to ignore it until a pinnacle moment of danger.

Additional resources:

  • 11 things people with anxiety want their friends to know
  • Is the blame game my fault?


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