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Dealing with a depressed friend when you are depressed

Published: September 24, 2013 | Last Updated: September 24, 2013 By | 5 Replies Continue Reading
A reader feels her depressed friend is weighing her down but feels guilty about letting go.

QUESTION

Hi,

I need some advice on a very tricky situation. My friend, whom I met online and have known for a couple of years, has been depressed and suicidal for the past year. I also have had chronic depression from since I was young and have also been suicidal so I thought I could relate to her feelings of being a failure and thinking that life is going nowhere.

The problem is she doesn’t actively seek help on her own and doesn’t like seeing a psychiatrist. She often tells me about her suicidal feelings and gets mad at me and her other friends for supposedly ignoring her and making her feel miserable because we don’t pay enough attention to her.

It has come to the point that I feel like our relationship is toxic. Every time I speak to her she gets mad. And when I don’t talk to her every week like she expects me to, she gets upset, too. It really feels like no matter what I do it’s never enough. She is negative in every aspect of conversation and any time I try to bring up something optimistic it gets knocked down or I get some sort of smart remark in return.

It’s also frustrating when my friend guilt trips me into paying more attention to her or tries to make me feel bad for not doing enough for her.  I’ll even get something like the suicide card sometimes and it makes me feel trapped.

I’ve spoken to her mom about this and have even invited her to my home even though we were only online friends. I make sure to contact her every once in awhile to see how she’s doing but if the timeframe gets too long, she accuses me of avoiding her. It’s come to the point where I feel like I’m being taken advantage of or played with even though she may not mean it.

As I mentioned before I also have my own depression to deal with, I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for years and it’s really hard for me to even get my own life together let alone take on what my friend is dealing with. The thing is though I’m afraid if I distance myself or set a boundary she’ll attempt to commit suicide in which case I wouldn’t be able to handle the guilt of maybe not helping enough or not caring enough. How can I distance myself enough to still be her friend but also allow myself the space and breathing room to focus on my own life?

Signed, Rosa

ANSWER

Hi Rosa,

While you and your friend share a history of depression, that shared experience alone is not enough to cement a healthy friendship.

As you well know, it is extraordinarily difficult to be close friends with someone who is severely depressed. If your friend always sees things in a negative light and has no hope for the future, being with her can begin to feel like a real downer. Given that you are prone to depression yourself, you are correct in trying to gain some distance from this relationship.

Ruminating about depression isn’t good for either of you. Your friend also sounds manipulative and may have other psychiatric diagnoses. You need to be honest and tell your friend you’ve realized this relationship isn’t good for your own mental health, and that until she seeks treatment, you need to step back. When you speak, focus your conversation on your needs, not hers.

If you feel you want to maintain this relationship, you need to set firm boundaries that feel comfortable for you. For example, you can tell your friend you can only communicate online once or twice a month. Alternatively I can also understand you deciding to break off the friendship or place it on a back burner for now.

Sadly, you are correct in being concerned about your friend. A person who talks about suicide is at increased risk. This is something that your friend may do whether or not you remain friends. You have done the right thing in alerting her family and urging her to seek treatment but you can’t take on the responsibility of making yourself her virtual life preserver.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


Some prior posts on The Friendship Blog that discuss friendship and depression:

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Category: Depressed friends, KEEPING FRIENDS

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  1. I'm the depressed friend - The Friendship Blog : The Friendship Blog | July 31, 2016
  1. Susan says:

    I have low self esteem that is turning into depression I am afraid of. And I have a very good friend that is suffering from depression. I want to help my friend because I love her and I would do anything for her, but just like that lady’s friend I also want my friend to write me a lot, every day, or I get upset at her, thinking that she don’t like me. The reason I want her to write me so much because I am lonely, I am also handicapped so I need love a lot of love, I wan’t and need to know everyday that I am loved, my family ignores me, we don’t do anything together so I depend on her to give me that love and attention that I am longing for.

    That puts a burden on her because she is also depressed and she has 4 little girls and her oldest girl is handicapped too, so it hard for both of us. It is like we live in two different worlds, she is super busy and I am so lonely that I could scream!! There were many times I wanted to die because the way my life is going, I really need a friend badly! I told this other lady that I want to be a friend to me how I felt and she seemed like she didn’t care, that really made me want to give up in life. What should I do, how should I handle this problem?

  2. Aline says:

    Hi Rosa,

    It is great that recognize that you are not equipped to help your friend when you yourself are coping with depression. Don’t feel bad about referring her to a counselor. THAT is helping her. There are many ways to help a friend. You might even add in a testimonial that you’ve gone to see therapists before and that you found them to be very helpful. Encourage her to try it. If you feel up to it, you can even go there with her so that she’s more likely to go. Tell her that therapists have more expertise than you and that you simply cannot handle what you have on your plate right now, but emphasize to her that you care about her dearly. Another suggestion is to take her to a bookstore or even give her a self-help book as a gift. This way, whenever she feels a rapid cycling of thoughts, she has something to help her get through it wherever she is.

    Some books I would suggest: Bad Childhood, Good Life by Laura Schlessinger, Feeling Good by David Burns, Overcoming Depression and Low Mood by Chris Williams, Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger, Climbing Out of Depression by Sue Atkinson

    Online Counseling and Group Therapy Discussion Boards that she can look up: liveperson, mytherapycouch, and blahtherapy have free therapy chat and discussion boards

    It definitely sounds like she is manipulating you through her depression. Some people have learned helplessness and other people have other ulterior motives for staying depressed. I have family members that have tried to manipulate in this passive aggressive way before. It may help you to read some books on manipulative and controlling people. One book, called Controlling People by Patricia Evans, is great at helping you identify manipulative behaviors. I almost went into depression once due to having to deal with the manipulative behaviors of my family members, but this book was great at helping you recognize it better and how to respond to such behavior. Depression isn’t always about just emotions. Sometimes, it’s about what you can do to solve problems that repeatedly induces negativity.

    Lastly, just remember that you can’t help your friend if you don’t help yourself first. You’ll have more to give when you attend to your needs. If she doesn’t understand, which is likely, you can use her own tactics against her by saying that if she were really a good friend, she’d believe that you can’t always be there, but it doesn’t mean you don’t care. Do not let the fear of losing the friendship overshadow your own recovery. You need to reduce the stress in your life to manage your depression. Take care, Aline

  3. Amy says:

    Irene is right about setting boundaries and sticking to them. If your friend were to commit suicide, it would not be due to those boundaries, but fur to her own mental illness and refusal to commit to treatment.
    Honestly, it sounds like your friend, whether intentionally or not, is emotionally blackmailing you, or that you feel emotionally blackmailed by her to maintain the relationship.
    You were brave and smart to talk to her mom. She’s in a much better position to help than you are. In fact, it sounds like you’re a good role model for this friend by engaging in your own treatment and working hard on your issues.
    Sometimes when people become friends over shared problems, whether on or offline, one person will recover faster than another and the friendship dissolves. If that’s what’s happening with you guys, it’s okay. Since you’ve from depression, you know nobody could “fix” you and you can’t fix someone else. Even therapists have clients who commit suicide on occasion, and they’re trained professionals.
    Have you ever heard of the term “enabling”? That’s when someone trying to be helpful inadvertently prevents a person from healing or seeking treatment. Depressed friends can sometimes so that while intending to be helpful.
    Sometimes distancing yourself, whether temporarily or permanently is the most helpful thing you can do.

    • Rosa says:

      Thank you for the responses! I haven’t talked to her in a while, I figure if she still wants to talk she can contact me but for the mean time I think I really have to distance myself. Although I feel a sort of guilt for letting her figure out things on her own but I’m not quite sure if I’m supposed to give her advice or something else. It’s just a real downer since we used to get along so well and have fun conversations together, I want her to get better but I just don’t know how anymore. She’s still seeing a psychiatrist so I’m hoping she will go more (Even though she’s told me she doesn’t want to go) but I feel like that’s all that can really help her right now.

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