Getting diagnosed with depression brings up different emotions for different people. After your doctor or mental health provider gives you the news, it’s a good idea to reach out for support from family, friends, or others in your community. They may be able to help you process what you’re feeling.
“For some people there’s relief. Here’s an answer that explains what’s going on with you. It’s a medical condition and it’s highly treatable,” says Ashley J. Smith, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Kansas City, MO, and co-founder of the psychological center Peak Mind.
Other people struggle with the diagnosis, she says. You might think: “‘I have depression. What does that mean about me? Am I flawed or broken?’”
Learning you have a mood disorder can be tough to hear. You could even feel ashamed if your family or community dismisses mental health conditions, says Jameca Cooper, PhD, a counseling psychologist in St. Louis and president and clinical director of Emergence Psychological Services.
“A lot of my patients talk about how their families don’t really believe in mental health issues like depression or anxiety,” Cooper says. “Sometimes they refer to baby boomer parents that say, ‘Just suck it up. Get over it. Just get enough rest. Just work harder.’ … A lot of people’s families see mental health as a weakness.”
Some people come from communities that don’t believe in mental health diagnoses, she adds. “In their countries of origin there is no such thing as anxiety or depression or schizophrenia. They might call it something else, and they might lump all of them together.”
Smith, who’s a member of the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, recommends educating yourself and your loved ones about depression by checking out reputable sources, like the ADAA’s website. “There [are] myths out there, and you need to understand: ‘Here’s the actual science, here’s what we actually know about it.’ And that can help dispel some of those myths and criticisms,” Smith says.
“‘We have to work hard to help people understand that mental illness has nothing to do with your character,” she adds. “It has nothing to do with your value as a human, your intelligence. It’s neurobiological.”
Who to Ask for Support
If your family and close friends accept that mental health conditions are serious health conditions, talk to them about your depression diagnosis, Cooper and Smith say.
“We need strong supports. We need healthy relationships. And you need that more than ever when you’re experiencing depression,” Smith says. “Being open with the people in your life helps maintain those connections, which is a protective factor.”
A candid conversation could also help them understand what you’ve been going through if depression has been making you irritable, negative, or uncommunicative, she says. That way, they can give you encouragement and help you stick to your treatment.
Tell your loved ones what kind of support you need, Cooper says. Try to be specific. Maybe you just need understanding and patience, rather than frequent phone calls to check in on you. Or maybe you’d appreciate an occasional hand with certain responsibilities, like help making meals or someone to pick the kids up from school.
If you’ve heard your loved ones mock or disregard mental health issues in the past, you can still try to educate them about your diagnosis. But you might want to look elsewhere for guidance and understanding, Cooper says.
You can connect with people outside of your family and friends, too. A local or virtual support group for depression is one good option. There, you can meet people who understand what you’re going through, and they may be able to give you tips that helped them. A support group can be especially helpful if other things in your life are playing a role in your depression, like a serious health condition or ongoing grief from a personal loss, Cooper says.
If you’re religious, you can also make your faith a part of your healing process. For example, some churches offer support groups and different types of counseling, Cooper says.
Getting support specifically for depression is key, but you can benefit from indirect emotional boosts, too. For example, you could volunteer for a cause that makes you feel good, Smith says. “When you’re finding a sense of meaning and purpose, when you’re engaging with other people, when you’re doing activities that matter, those can help actually address some symptoms of depression,” she says.
Physical activity is a great way to help take charge of depression, she adds. “A gym or exercise can also provide that sense of community and of support while also getting that exercise in.”
As you come to grips with your diagnosis and find emotional support, work closely with your doctor or
or mental health provider. Ask them which treatments and lifestyle changes might help you feel your best. “There’s a lot of different pathways that can lead to depression,” Smith says. “So that also means we have a lot of different treatment options that can work.”