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Drained by a profoundly depressed friend

If you have a profoundly depressed friend, you may need to set reasonable limits.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

What do you do to safeguard your own sanity from an extremely depressed person, who sucks you dry, complaining over the same thing. No amount of listening and support seems enough. She is draining and has been so for 30 years, which has been compounded by a recent stroke.

I just shut down and have not contacted this person for a week in order to recoup my sanity. She has not called so I think she knows I have had it. I feel bad about having to shut her out.

Signed, Alan

ANSWER

Hi Alan,

It is common for someone who is profoundly depressed to continually complain and see everything in a negative light. You sound like a very compassionate and caring friend—but friendship has its limits.

Yes, it can be frustrating to deal with a depressed friend—but bear in mind that depression is a real illness, not a flaw in character. Also, sometimes, strokes can lead to depression or can compound depression that has predated a stroke.

It sounds like your friend requires more help and support than can be expected from any one friend. If she has not already been assessed and/or treated by a mental health professional, try to urge her to see one. (You might even mention to her that people often get depressed after a stroke.)

If she is resistant, see if you can involve one of her family members or any friends you have in common in helping her.

Enlisting the support of others will not only help your friend but also relieve some of your burden. Remember that your first responsibility is to yourself, and if you are feeling so drained, you may really need some time off.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene


Prior posts on The Friendship Blog that discuss friendship and depression:

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Category: Dealing with friends with health and/or emotional problems

Comments (15)

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  1. Bell says:

    I have a boyfriend who is depressed and is seeking professional help and I’ve been with him through this all for months trying to help him out. I don’t know what I can do anymore. Do I leave? ( it would make him more depressed) or do I just put up with it? I love him to death but it’s ruining my own happiness

  2. Jan says:

    I have clinical depression and recovering from a depressive episode. I have two depressed friends who are overly reliant on me. I need a break. I am starting to get symptoms again. I wish they would stop and consider my depression. I

  3. Monica says:

    I can’t help but think a friend of mine in another country is experiencing depression And being selfish!! She complaint so much about her problems, didn want to do anything about it. Then didn’t care to say what happened for months… i was worried — And her reply after that sounded selfish. She said people who leave her alone are Better than me and being alone is important.
    I don’t like being ignored and i had tried to be understanding but it’s too much and too ungrateful. I said i won’t be forced to ‘leave her alone’ It hurts as it’s been a long friendship and she sounded so cruel to cut me off

  4. Jack says:

    As a person suffering from depression who has lost most of his friends I can tell you what I would have liked from them. I think there is ‘objective reality’ and then there are each individuals maps of their best estimate of what reality is. I felt that when my depression came into play my friends mental maps could not handle it. I wanted to talk and share, correct and align our maps but they were extremely reluctant to do so, and if they did were not able to comprehend objectively – their maps painted it as something strange – they left instead of loved.. I know having a depressed friend is tough for most people – but for me their inability to sensibly deal with a real issue was a deficiency on their part – sure I had a problem, made a loss worse by theirs – it doesnt feel nice to lose almost all of your friends in rapid succession.

    • Monica says:

      To jack, sorry to know this. I’m not depressed but i’ve lost friends through misunderstandings. Now i’ve a depressed friend… she may be overseas but i cherished it. The way she talked is as if don’t need me anymore. I don’t know How and why can continue to delude self that people LIKe to be around her.

      I hope she gets into your situation, Then will wake up.

  5. Sally Barker says:

    Irene’s advice is really great. I’m so sorry that you are dealing with this really difficult issue. This reminds me of a great video I watched on TEDtalks about a lady who was severely depressed due to a head injury. She ultimately conquered her depression and took control of her life. I really suggest you and your friend watch this inspiring video, it’s short and on youtube here http://youtu.be/lfBpsV1Hwqs.

  6. Jude says:

    Thank you all for the helpful advise.

    I have for 20 years advised her to get help to no avail. Some people thrive on getting attention, even if its negative attention, its better than nothing.

    She is already on zoloft, which seems not to help and she lives in the past, but I am definitely setting my boundaries. Her children have become more and more distant and they have minimal amount of interaction as her behavior can also be very inappropriate.

    I will definitely keep boundaries and will take the advise of advising her how she is affecting those around her.

    • Tried That.... says:

      And when one finds out that there is no “help”, no “cure”, no “return to normalcy” to be found? Then what? Should these people then be tossed aside as unfixable and unloveable?

      The most infuriating thing is the assumption that going to see some “doctor” will be the solution to a depressed person’s illness. Not true, at least not for all. The assumption that you aren’t doing anything to help yourself when you have very likely faced and dealt with pain and anguish that the people heaping their judgment and scorn on you have never come close to experiencing. But oh, let’s worry about the “sanity” of the non-depressed friend, however that is affected because I just don’t see it. Let’s make sure the person suffering from an illness with no cure and that impairs their ability to even be able to do anything about it know how much their problem is “taking a toll on the friendship” because what better way to solve things then to push a person on a downward spiral further into despair, that should make everything easier on the depressed friend. Better yet, tell them to “just get over it”, that “it is all in their head”, that “others have it worse and what is it they have to complain about”, that “other people would love to look they way they do, have what they have, etc.”, that they are “just a whiner” or any other number of things that kick them while they are down. Even though you would never dare dream of saying that to someone suffering from cancer or other major illness.
      “Hey friend, sorry you have cancer but it is just too draining on me to be around you, it’s taking a toll on our friendship and if you keep it up I will dump you. Just pull yourself together and get over it and then maybe you can be worthy of friendship with other people. Hopefully going through chemo won’t be a problem for you without any support or caring, but hey, I got to think of my sanity”.

      • Jack says:

        I totally agree, having experienced exactly what you are talking about (see my other comment above). Depression is a serious problem but the way other people percieve and handle it is truly insane..

      • Alex says:

        Yes, we should worry about the sanity of normal person who is swept into their own depressive episode after dealing with you selfish nuts for years. And I’m not a troll. For four years I’ve done everything on earth from emotional to financial to help my friend, including sinking into a depression of my own. Does she care now that I’m hurting and depressed NO it’s still all about her. I, unlike her, and determined to crawl out of this, and I think the first thing I have to do is sever ties with her She will never get better, I’m sorry but I’m not going to be dragged down anymore.

  7. Amy says:

    Thirty years is a long time to be depressed, or to have a friend who is depressed. Does your friend recognize that she’s depressed and has she spoken to her doctor?
    Depressed people can become myopic and even selfish if they can only focus on their own despair and not others. Sometimes well meaning friends who try to listen or even play amateur therapist can actually enable the person by providing just enough support so the depressed person can avoid seeking treatment. So your sanity-break might serve both your needs.
    I’d have a frank discussion with your friend and explain the toll her depression is taking on your friendship. Offer to accompany her to a therapist or psychiatrist, give her phone numbers and resources. Did you know even the act of making an appointment with a therapist often elevates a person’s mood, in that she is tasking action. This pseudo-placebo effect can be enough to get her to engage in treatment.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t think I’d characterize depressed individuals as being “selfish” in the sense that they are egomaniacs.

      Their psychological health issue is such that their thinking process naturally gravitates inwards.

      Depressed people don’t chose to be self-absorbed; it’s a by-product of their mental health problem.

      Classical advice to the depressed, usually but not always offered by religious individuals, such as Christians, to take one’s mind off one’s self by volunteering does not and will not help someone with chronic, clinical depression.

      Going to a psychologist is not altogether a bad idea, but if the psychologist does not get at the root of her condition, she could waste a lot of time. Her depression could have a biological cause, environmental, poor coping skills, or some combination of all that.

      Depressed people need help getting to a psychologist’s office. Their sickness often makes them house-bound.

      Something as simple to the rest of us as getting out of bed, making a dr. appointment, getting dressed, driving to the doctor’s, can be very difficult and overwhelming for them. She may need a family member or friend to phone the doc for her and drive her to the appt.

      I would advise the friend who wrote not to altogether dump this friend, since that would be cruel, but he needs to tell her he will either not visit her as much, or when the do talk, he will only listen to her complain about her pet topics for so many minutes before they talk about another topic. If she breaks that rule, he needs to get up and leave and tell her why.

  8. Bronwyn says:

    If this has been going on for 30 years, she needs some new treatment personnel in her life. Especially if, as you say, the complaints are the same.

    As Irene noted, depression is an actual illness, but even the various forms of mental illness that would include long-term depression would be alleviated somewhat with proper treatment.

    Maybe contacting this person’s family & asking them if they’ve considered encouraging her to explore other treatment options would be the best thing you can do as a friend.

    There are a few red flags in the letter about the type of mental illness this person might be experiencing. Since the complaints seem to be the same, I’d even go so far as to ask if anyone has ever recommended DBT therapy to this person. Knowing what to offer as redirection from the ruminating might be your own salvation. Not that it’s your responsibility, but if you do plan to remain friends, this might be helpful for both of you.

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