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Talking about Depression by Cindy Stulberg and Ronald Frey ~ An Excerpt from Feeling Better

For years, the first line of defense for depression has been pharmaceuticals, but in their new book Feeling Better: Beat Depression and Improve Your Relationships with Interpersonal Psychotherapy (New World Library, November 20, 2018), psychologists and authors Cindy Goodman Stulberg and Ronald J. Frey, PhD, say that it is actually our relationships that offer the most effective path to healing.

Knowing that depression is an illness as legitimate as any physical ailment, Feeling Better helps readers get clarity around the four main areas in life that can be contributing factors to why people feel sad, blue, down, and depressed: life transitions, complicated grief, interpersonal conflict, or social isolation. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

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If you’ve been keeping your depression to yourself, it’s time to share the burden with someone else. If we let others know about our temporary limitations, we’re more likely to receive support for our efforts and new ideas for how to cope. Opening up also gives others the opportunity to share their struggles with us — experiences we may never have known they had. Suddenly, we don’t feel so alone anymore.

It’s normal to feel shy, scared, embarrassed, and anxious about telling people. Many of us — me included — have our feelings of self-worth tied up with being seen as one of those people who have their act together. (It’s common among people in helping professions. We help others, but we don’t always have the skills to help ourselves.) If you’re used to being the capable one, it can feel uncomfortable to admit to others that you’re struggling. Plus, if you haven’t reached out for help before, you don’t know it’s possible for someone to offer you support and show they care.

The first step is to acknowledge that being strong isn’t always a strength. The next is to imagine a different future, one where there’s a little more give-and-take in your relationships. Many people will want to help you as much as you want to help them. Let them in.

Don’t feel you have to tell everyone about your depression. Start with one or two people who are affected by your illness or who you think will be understanding.

It’s usually helpful to share the symptoms of depression with the person you’re confiding in. That way you both have the same understanding of the many physical and emotional impacts of the illness and can speak a common language. Let the person know that you’re working hard to feel better. Explain that you need to take a break from some of the things you usually do to give yourself the time and energy to make positive changes. Reassure them that the situation is temporary. Listen to their concerns, and be open to their suggestions.

Some people will really understand. Some may offer to help. (Don’t refuse the casserole.) Some might not get it; you can sense they’re trying, but they’re struggling to empathize. If that person is close to you or you need their help with some of your responsibilities, try sharing this chapter of the book with them. Of course, you won’t want to assign reading homework to a person who isn’t a reader. Instead, show them the book and talk them through the important information, as in a highlight reel or postgame recap. They’ll get the point that your information comes from a credible source — the book — but they won’t have to read it themselves.

Unfortunately, some people might not be supportive at all. You can’t change that. But at least you’ll know who you can turn to the next time you need advice or assistance. Try not to blame those who don’t understand. They may show their support through actions, not words, by doing things like fixing the car or spending more time with the kids.

Many people who have depression stop socializing, and their isolation may be compounded by other circumstances, for example, a move to a new city, the arrival of a new baby, a spouse who travels a lot, or the lack of a strong support system. John, for example, never felt he had kind, caring friends or family. Admitting to himself that he was depressed has been hard enough, because it feels like one more way he’s failed. How is he supposed to share that with the very people who are responsible for his feelings of inadequacy?

If, like John, you feel there’s no one you can talk to about your depression, we encourage you to open up to one person anyway. John swallows his pride and tells his brother (the most supportive of his unsupportive siblings) about how he’s feeling. First, he explains the symptoms. Then he says that he’s working on getting better. His brother expected John to say the things he’s said so many times before: “I’d feel better if I had a girlfriend,” “The problem is my job,” “I just need more money,” “If I’d stayed in school, this wouldn’t be happening,” “It’s because I’m living with Mom and Dad.” When John’s brother doesn’t hear John singing the same old tune, he’s pleasantly surprised. He praises John for making an effort — a first in their relationship.

Often our words are received poorly not because of what we want to say, but because of how we say it. It takes a little self-reflection to recognize the patterns in the way we communicate with the people in our lives, but it’s worth taking a look. John’s go-to style has been to make excuses and blame others. You may find, like John, that making a change in the way you communicate helps you feel you have someone to talk to. It’s not something you can accomplish overnight, but now’s as good a time as any to start — and we’ll continue working on this together over the weeks ahead.

You may feel there’s no one you can talk to about your depression because, in your family and community, talk of mental illness is shameful and therefore off-limits. You may worry that if it gets out that you’re depressed, it could affect your future. Rest assured, there will be someone you can talk to. That person may be outside your immediate family or cultural community. They may be more of an acquaintance than a friend, or they may be a professional.

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Cindy Goodman Stulberg, DCS, CPsych, and Ronald J. Frey, PhD, CPsych, are the authors of Feeling Better and directors of the Institute for Interpersonal Psychotherapy. Visit them online at http://interpersonalpsychotherapy.com.

Excerpted from the book Feeling Better. Copyright ©2018 by Cindy Goodman Stulberg and Ronald J. Frey. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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