When Friends and Family Don’t Understand Depression


When you have depression, it can be very helpful knowing that your friends and family are in your corner.  But what can you do when they just don’t understand depression?  Or, worse, maybe they’re even hostile towards you, blaming you for your illness or saying things that make you feel completely discouraged?  If you are finding yourself in this position, try some of the following tips:

1. Be kind to yourself. When others treat you badly, it becomes all the more important for you to treat yourself with kindness and respect. Be gentle, nurturing and loving in your self-talk and your actions. It does make a difference in how you feel.

2. Don’t take it too personally. Their thoughts and feelings regarding depression may have nothing to with you. Maybe they grew up in a time or culture where it was not acceptable to show weakness? Or mental illness was stigmatized? Maybe they are simply responding to these teachings rather than anything specifically related to you?

3. Be aware that sometimes people do understand depression and you are going through, but are not able to be as supportive as you need them to be. It could be they are dealing with their own depression or they have a great deal of stress in their own lives and they simply don’t have the energy needed to help you.  It doesn’t mean they don’t care; they just aren’t able at the present time to give anything more.

4. Sometimes you have to ask for help. While it would be nice if people always realized we needed help without us having to ask, they may not be as good at picking up on our emotions as we think.  The person who you think is ignoring you may actually be completely clueless because you’ve done such a good job in hiding how you feel. There is nothing wrong with asking for help if we need it.

5. It’s okay to avoid or cut people out of your life if they are causing you harm. Just because someone is a family member or a close friend, this does not mean that they have always treated you well or been a good influence on you.  Sometimes staying away from that person is the best thing you can do for your own mental health.

6. Don’t fall for other people’s misconceptions about depression. People have a lot of mistaken ideas about depression: that it means someone is lazy or weak or just not trying hard enough. None of this is true. Scientists tell us that depression is due to chemical imbalances in the brain. Knowledge and education are a good way to fight back when someone tries to convince you that your depression in not real or is somehow your fault.

7. Seek out support in other places. When friends and family fail to be supportive, look for people in other places, such as depression support groups or online chats, who understand what you are going through and can give you the acceptance that you need. You will find that strangers can soon become good friends, perhaps better ones than you’ve ever had before.

8. Use your anger towards the other person to your benefit. Rather than holding in your feelings or beating yourself up, take your anger and channel it into positive activity, like exercising or cleaning your house. This gives you an outlet for your pent up anger without doing harm to yourself or others.

Nancy Schimelpfening, MS

Nancy Schimelpfening is the founder of Depression Sanctuary. Unless otherwise stated, all of the content on Depression Sanctuary is written by and maintained by Nancy. Nancy has a master’s degree in community health education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. She was the About.com (now Verywell.com) expert on depression from 1998-2016. She has also written for other online publications, including Healthline, Health Digest, and MindBodyGreen.