“Our need for connection and love is just as fundamental as our need for food, water, and shelter,” writes clinical psychologist Lee H. Coleman, Ph.D, in his book Depression: A Guide for The Newly Diagnosed. So when you’re struggling with depression — or any mental illness, condition or concern — having support is incredibly important for getting better.
In her book Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, author Therese Borchard cites several studies about the power of support groups.
For instance, she mentions a 2002 study, where 95 percent of people with severe depression reported that online support groups helped their symptoms.
According to Coleman, people meet their needs for connection and social support in different ways. That’s simply because each person is different. As he writes, “An introverted, intellectual scientist is obviously not going to meet his needs for closeness in the same way that an outgoing entertainer would.”
In his book, Coleman suggests taking the time to identify the type of support you need, whether it’s at home, work, school or from others. These are some of the questions he recommends asking:
- Would you like to spend more time with a particular person?
- What are your needs for affection and sex?
- If your sex drive is lower, what other ways can you connect with your partner?
- If you might isolate yourself, how should others reach you? “When and how often?”
- Who would you like to tell about your depression?
- Who would you rather not tell?
- How is depression affecting your work?
- Which work responsibilities are you having a harder time with? (“List some of your specific problems.”)
- Do you need to take time off from work?
- Do you need to adjust your responsibilities at home such as cooking, cleaning or childcare?
- If you’re a student, do you need to get extensions on assignments? Or a leave of absence?
- Do you need to change what you’re eating?
- Do you need some help with grocery shopping or buying other necessities?
- If concentration is a concern, would creating reminders help?
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, do you need help in making decisions or plans?
- Do you need help in finding a mental health practitioner or transportation to your appointments or something else treatment-related?
Remember that people can’t read your mind, Coleman says, so it’s important to clearly communicate your needs to others. Also, consider carefully the people you’d like to share your diagnosis with. “You’ll want to weigh the benefits against your privacy and the likely effect on your relationship,” he writes.
When it comes to approaching your boss, if you’re not sure how they’ll react, “err on the side of caution by not immediately using the word ‘depression,’” Coleman writes. Instead, be specific about the accommodations you need. If pressed, he says, mention that you’re ill — without providing details.
As Coleman writes, “There’s no shame in dealing with depression, but the reality is that some people still attach a stigma to it.” And your employer might be one of those people. So it’s important to protect your privacy and yourself.
If your symptoms are severely affecting your performance, you might need to request reasonable accommodations. (The Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University has a helpful page on academic and work accommodations.)
Think about how depression has affected your life, and what you need right now. Seek support from the close people in your life, and consider face-to-face or online support groups. You can find a list of support groups and other resources at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. And, if you aren’t already, consider working with a clinician.