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How to keep friends when you have a mental disorder

December 31, 2016 | By Continue Reading
A young woman with a mental disorder worries about alienating her friends.

QUESTION

Hi,

I’m a 22-year-old woman and over the course of my life I’ve been diagnosed with several different anxiety and mood disorders.

Because of my mental illnesses, friendships can be challenging. I myself have had friends with mental illnesses, so I know how taxing it can be to the person on the other end of the friendship. I don’t want my problems to become burdensome, irritating, or hurtful to those around me.

How can I maintain healthy friendships when by brain isn’t always healthy?

Signed, Ali

ANSWER

Hi Ali,

Your prospects for maintaining healthy friendships are quite good because you seem to have insight and sensitivity to the burden your symptoms and mental disorder might pose for friends. Here are a few thoughts:

1) Because the symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders often wax and wane over time, pay attention to your moods and the impact they may be having on your friendships. If you sense that you are overly anxious, very depressed or hypomanic, speak with your therapist to see if he/she can offer strategies to better manage your symptoms either with medication, cognitive-behavioral approaches, or a combination of the two. If you feel you have burdened a friend unduly, apologize.

2) Related to this, be careful not to depend on friends as therapists. The two are not interchangeable. While it’s normal to discuss problems with friends, be cautious not to go overboard. Friends don’t have the training to substitute as therapists.

3) Try to educate your close friends about your disorder to enhance their understanding of you and of mental disorders, in general. While the stigma of mental disorders is being reduced as celebrities and other prominent people disclose their conditions, and people talk about mental disorders—misunderstanding and misperceptions still abound.

4) If you aren’t feeling up to being with a friend, give yourself permission to take a “mental health day.” Bow out gracefully, explaining that you aren’t feeling up to par.

5) Remember that you are more than your illness or your symptoms. Your close friends know that no one is perfect and friendship is a matter of give and take. Also, there may be times when your friends are needy and feel like a drain on you. Be there for them to the extent you can, and the kindness and compassion will be returned.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


While the book I co-authored with my husband for the Wiley series, Schizophrenia for Dummies, focusing primarily on that disorder, it is also offers practical information for families and for those living with any mental disorder. It is likely to be available at your local library.

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (5)

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  1. rishi says:

    I have came newly to college. I was a drop out and my colleagues are 3-4 years younger than me. At first I was so scared about having friends. But got a lot of friends and we formed a gang. It was an awesome period. But then after sometimes I don’t I just started feeling distance I can’t participate in conversations with them I have seen they also tried to make it work but its not working I can’t talk anything. then I felt its ok just stay comfortable. but the distance is growing I am scared of being lonely. I had searched on net and tried hundred ways till now to make it work . but no real change at all. and finally I didn’t want my head to put too much stress for it so I just let go. but I’m bit scared of being lonely since I have a boyfriend,( our relation is strong) what he thinks ..I don’t feel like sharing it with him.

  2. tammy says:

    I’ve had friends with mental issues over the years. It can be difficult to sustain a friendship because they can become very unbalanced. I think I used to try to hard to “help” when honestly I should have put up stronger boundaries and said to a couple in particular “I am not really qualified to help you with this”. In some cases the relationship would become so exhausting to me I’d have to pull away and unfortunately hurt some feelings but at the time it was self preservation. One friend did the ghosting herself. I think it was just too hard to be around people for her at times. In no way am I saying don’t be friends with someone who has mental health issues, just realize it can be very challenging. I think one thing that drove me most crazy is a friend who told me I couldn’t possibly understand being upset or angry or depressed because her feelings were so much more intense than mine could ever be. Because I was “normal”. And she wasn’t. So therefore any grief I had was shadowed by her pain and therefore mine wasn’t worth talking about. I ended that friendship once I grew a better self esteem and boundaries.

  3. Morgan Peacock says:

    Well, you cannot befriend everyone. But someone you do or would consider a real good friend, tell them what your disorder is. When people understand you and how you process things, they will have more patience, more compassion, and understanding. So if something happens it wont result in a fight or breaking up as friends. If you are having a bad day, your real friend will understand and not hold ot against you. Remember, no matter how good of a time you have with someone, that doesnt make them your friend. If anyone stop being your friend because its too hard, they werent your friend to begin with. Its already hard finding real friends in general. So to add on they may have to work with you, the odds get slimmer in finding a real friend. The people today are so selfish and dont put much work into anything they aren’t benefiting from. So stay strong, and always try to consider how you could be making someone else feel, and do your best to correct it. You never want to be the friend who always gets a pass because of your disorder. Try to be the best, friend you could be to someone else.

  4. Amy F says:

    You’re wise to ask such an important question. Here are some other tips:

    -Don’t use your mental illness as an excuse. If necessary, apologize without referencing your issues.
    -Have good boundaries between friendship, therapy, your needs, your friends.
    -Ask your friends to tell you, in a kind manner, when/if your issues are impacting the friendship in a negative way.
    -Keep working hard to be the best version of yourself. Continue therapy and stay in your meds.
    -Choose friends wisely,

  5. Irene (the other one) :) says:

    I so agree with Dr. Irene – it is important that your friends realise that being with people, engaging with them in talk and activities, (particularly if you suffer with agoraphobia) can at times overload your system and make you ill. Our body chemistry changes all the time – some days the ‘feel good’ factor is strong, and other days it can be very low. So, pace yourself, but let your friends know it is not them that are at fault, it is the way you feel on a given day.

    All the best – I hope you conquer this debilitating disease. (I learnt a breathing technique that helped me overcome excessive anxiety, many years ago now, and it has never returned).

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