A friend asks how to respond to her friends living with depression who seem on-again, off-again.
I’d like some advice on the best way to support a couple of great friends who are living with depression. In general, the friendships are fun and satisfying with healthy give and take. They both take care of themselves and receive professional help.
My question regards the best way to be supportive when one of them is having a depressive episode. I’ve noticed with both friends that they’ll ask for attention (one texts me, the other posts on Facebook to everyone asking for support and love.) I’ll call or message them and ask if I can stop by with coffee, take them out for lunch, or pick up some grocery items for them. Sometimes they will make plans with me then blow it off at the last minute, or just tell me they are too upset to see me.
I have no problem with giving someone space when they feel crappy and just can’t, but I’m just confused by what I should do when someone reaches out and then pushes me away almost in the same breath. Sometimes it seems like they’re shocked that I’m actually trying to see them. They say something like “I’m not doing well so obviously I don’t want to have coffee with you.” Actually, it isn’t obvious to me at all because I was just asked for attention.
Because this is happening with multiple people who are having similar problems, I’m wondering what could be better about my approach. I just don’t understand the “I need you don’t come near me” stuff but assume it’s part of depression. Is anyone out there currently managing on-and-off depression, and if so, what is the ideal response a friend could give you when you let them know you’re having a rough time with it?
Your friends are lucky to have an understanding friend like you on their side. It sounds like both friends retreat socially when they’re depressed, which is typical for many people living with depression. Just because they turn you down or don’t show up doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate your offer of support.
Yes, depression can have its ups and downs. When depressed people do reach out, them may simply want someone to listen. Perhaps, you could ask these friends how you can best be supportive to them. Do they want talk about their feelings? Do they want to get-together and do something distracting? Do they need help with errands?
Explain that you’re happy to get together but don’t want to place undue pressure on them if they aren’t feeling up to it. Having two depressed friends may put some strain on you. Not only can it be a downer but you can’t always rely upon them for companionship. If this is the case, you may want to add another non-depressed friend to your circle.
Hope this helps.
Previously on The Friendship Blog:
- Psych 101: When a close friend is depressed
- Drained by a profoundly depressed friend
- Where can my depressed friend can help?
- Coping with a depressed friend