Depression can be a very lonely and isolating illness. Getting support from others can help keep us going.
However, it can be hard to know when to reach out for help, and how to go about asking for it. In this post we offer some advice about reaching out.
WHEN TO REACH OUT
- Feeling low or sad
- Being tearful a lot
- Having low self-esteem
- Having feelings of guilt
- Struggling for the motivation to do anything
- Struggling to make decisions
- Feeling suicidal
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Either struggling to sleep or sleeping too much
If we’ve been experiencing these sorts of symptoms for more than a couple of weeks, it’s worth popping to the GP. Even if they don’t diagnose us with depression – there’s no harm in reaching out to chat over things anyway. There could be other help they can offer.
When it comes to speaking to other people, it comes down to a matter of personal preference. Some of us might have supportive families and friends and will want to tell them right away. Others of us might need more time to digest what’s going on in our lives before telling others.
At work it might be helpful to tell our line manager as soon as we are struggling, or as soon as we have a diagnosis. However we are not legally required to disclose our illness if we would prefer to keep it to ourselves.
WHO TO TALK TO
There are lots of different people that we could speak to if we’re feeling depressed. When we are unwell, it often feels like we’re alone, and as though nobody has ever felt the way that we do before. But that’s not the case. There are people who love us. There are people who will be there for us.
We could try and speak to family or friends that we’re close to. If we follow a religion, there might be a religious leader we could speak to. Often there will be a pastoral lead in a religious organisation, if we don’t want to speak to the main speaker.
If we’re at school, then we could speak to our form tutor, a teacher we particularly like, or the school nurse. Student support may be able to help those of us at University.
Online, we could reach out to charities relevant to our individual situation. We could also look at charities who operate locally to us, to see if they have any support groups or self-help sessions. If we can afford it, we could also look into private therapy.
If we want to tap into NHS resources, our GP is usually the best place to start. Some areas have a mental health team that we could self-refer to, either through Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) or a Single Point of Access (SPA). Availability of services, and the referral process, will vary between areas; which is why our GP might be the least daunting place to start. If we are feeling very unsafe, we could try one of the crisis support systems, or go to our local A&E.
WAYS TO COMMUNICATE
Different people have different preferences when it comes to communication. Some of us love to talk: we find talking things out helps us process things as we speak. Others find talking difficult: we can find it hard to remember things and may trip over our words. In this case, it can be easier to write our thoughts down – it can help us to process things or remember them.
If we can’t find our own words, we could look up quotes that we can relate to. Some of us might want so bypass words altogether and use images. We could paint or draw, or make collages – or use the artwork of others to convey how we feel.
The way we talk about our depression with our friends and family may vary from person to person. If we’re used to meeting up, we could plan to go for a coffee or a walk and tell them then. If they live at the other end of the country and we see them once a year, using the phone might be better. When talking about our depression to others, we don’t have to do anything special or different. We can talk to those around us in the same way as we’ve always done.
If we’re not up to telling someone face to face in the first instance, we could try other forms of communication. For friends or family that could be a text or an email. For religious leaders or teachers we could leave them a note. Local charities, GP surgeries, and mental health teams, are likely to have forms that we can fill in.
There are lots of different ways to communicate, and it’s absolutely okay to do so in the way that feels best to us.
HOW TO TELL THEM
It can be hard to find the words to tell someone that we’re not feeling as good as we should be. We often find that we don’t have the words to match our feelings.
At the GP, it can help to take a list of the things which have lead us to believe we might have depression. GP appointments are short is it’s good to mention our worries about our mood at the very start of the appointment. Doc Ready is a fantastic app for helping people to prepare for a GP appointment when experiencing mental illness. A similar approach could work well for people like teachers and religious leaders.
It’s natural to feel nervous about talking to people about having depression. It can be anxiety-provoking because it isn’t usually a topic of everyday conversation. We don’t need to feel ashamed of how we’re feeling. We are still us, whether we have depression or not. It’s just that with depression, we have an illness which affects how we feel, and how we experience the world.
Time to Change have some videos on talking to friends about mental illness. When we tell our friends, they might have a lot of questions. It might help to have some website links to point them in the direction of that could help them to understand. It can feel overwhelming but it’s okay to take our time over answering any questions. It’s also okay to say that we don’t have the answers right now.
WHEN WE DON’T GET THE RESPONSE WE’D HOPED FOR
Sometimes, when we open up to someone, we don’t get the response we’d hoped for.
With our GP, it could feel like they haven’t understood us, or taken us seriously. We could try going back to them again having had a think about how else to explain. We could also try writing it down, to see if we can help them to understand. Alternatively, we could try a different GP in the practice.
Friends and family might react in a way that we find hard to cope with. They may say things that we find hurtful or don’t agree with. Sometimes, it comes from a place of fear – they don’t know how to help us. Some of those we tell might have preconceived ideas about what it means to have depression.
Directing them to weblinks or videos that explain our symptoms can help them to understand. Our free ‘Supporting Someone With Depression’ guide may also help. Some might want to find that online support groups for carers can help to educate them about what we’re experiencing. Hopefully these things can help to remove some of the stigma and fear that might arise.
ASKING FOR HELP ISN’T WEAKNESS
Reaching out and asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.
Sometimes we feel like we should ‘just get on with stuff’ or ‘sort ourselves out’. We don’t want to burden others, and place a lot of stigma on ourselves. We say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to others. If a friend was struggling, we would want to help them. Our loved ones want to help us too.
We shouldn’t feel any shame for reaching out for help with depression. For many of us, it might be the strongest thing we ever do.
Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.