Anon asks: Hey Isaac, do you have any tips on how to tell my parents I’ve been struggling with depression for a few years? I live overseas and they already worry about me so I never wanted to tell them because I know it will break their hearts; but I’m starting to feel like I’m in a place where I need to be honest with them. But I don’t know how to do it, especially over the phone? Thanks in advance.
Hey, gidday mate! This one is close to my heart, because depression is something I’ve struggled with throughout my life. Mine isn’t so much a can’t-get-out-of-bed depression, it’s always been more of an I-have-a-happiness-sized-hole-that-must-be-filled-by-any-means-necessary depression.
I always told my parents what was happening with me when things got really bad. Sometimes I just blurted it out, like when I was having relationship problems in my 20s; other times it took me months to tell them, like when I was bullied in high school and felt so ashamed that I didn’t want anybody to know; other times it took a couple of years, like when I was living in New York and not really coping but I didn’t want to worry them or break their hearts or let them down or whatever — basically the same reasons you gave.
Newsflash: They’re our parents. They’re always a little bit worried about us.
My experience has always been that whenever I’ve dropped what I thought was an enormous bombshell on my parents, their reactions have never been as big as I thought they would be. It’s also been my experience as I’ve gotten older that a lot of us humans go through similar experiences in this life of ours, so what one of us might think is our big bad secret might not be so shocking to someone else. (FYI: I do not advise you go around telling your big bad secrets to anybody who’ll listen.)
I called my Dad this afternoon to talk this question through with him, and he said that he always appreciated my openness and honesty because it helped him and Mum understand what was going on with me.
So my advice is to just tell them. Say you need to talk about something you’ve been going through. Name it. Tell them how it manifests itself. Tell them what you’re doing to help yourself through it.
Which leads me to my next point: What are you doing to help yourself?
Therapy is an incredible thing and I highly recommend it. I have a therapist. She’s Israeli and amazing and I see her for an hour every week. We talk about everything from childhood to right now and through these weekly hour-long conversations, I start to understand little bits and pieces about who I am as a human being and why I’ve made certain decisions in my life.
Which leads me to my next point: Seeing a therapist isn’t embarrassing or shameful or a sign of weakness.
I don’t know where you’re from, but I come from New Zealand, which is a country that doesn’t always have the most supportive things to say about things like mental illness and depression. The national attitude is “Harden up and get over it.” The thought of going to a therapist is “So American,” and if you’re not coping with your situation you should just stop being such a pussy.
But that is stupid. Completely stupid. Absolutely and utterly ridiculously stupid.
If you also come from New Zealand or a country with attitudes like it, let me say this:
Everybody goes through hardships, no matter who they are or what the situation. Some of us have mental health problems, others go through divorce or grief over death, others have issues with drugs and alcohol, others have postpartum depression, problems with food, money, relationships, sex, gambling, anger, violence, infidelity, you name it. Some of us have a little bit of all of the above. I’m of the opinion that it’s more common to have issues than it is to not.
I personally have more issues than Vogue. lol but true story.
So, while it’s going to be difficult for your parents to hear that you’re depressed, if they already know you’re unhappy, putting a label on it like DEPRESSION probably isn’t going to make them worry more than they already do. It might actually give them some relief that there’s a specific reason for your unhappiness.
If they react badly, give them time. They’re only human too, and they have their own issues and insecurities and fears and weaknesses just like the rest of us.
If you want more advice, I 100% urge you to talk to a therapist. They’re trained to help with this exact thing.
Godspeed, and best of luck.
Oh, and one last thing: Suffering from depression and/or mental illness is not a death sentence, or a guarantee that you’re going to be unhappy forever. Some of the happiest, healthiest people I know suffer from mental illness. It’s how you deal with it that matters most.
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