• Resolving Problems

My friend doesn’t understand depression

Published: November 10, 2016 | By | 4 Replies Continue Reading
What do you do when your best friend doesn’t understand depression and doesn’t believe you?


Dear Friendship Doctor,

I’ve been having problems with my best friend for over a year now. It stems from my diagnosis of depression. When I was first diagnosed, I was very confused and in a state of sadness. I know I expected a lot from her in terms of her being there for me. I was under the impression she was.

But recently she told me that at first, she did not believe me when I told her I was diagnosed. The only reason she came to believe me was because of an incident that occurred while on vacation last Christmas when I had a panic attack.

I feel very hurt by this confession because I did nothing wrong to provoke her doubt of my mental health. I don’t know what to do or how to handle this situation. Please help.

Signed, Bonnie


Hi Bonnie,

My sense is that the best way to handle this situation is to forgive your friend. Mental illnesses are largely invisible because they aren’t something other people can see, like a broken limb or a skin rash.

Additionally, there is so much misunderstanding, lack of understanding and stigma associated with depression and other mental disorders. It’s common for friends or family to accuse a depressed person of malingering. Many also have the erroneous impression that people can pull themselves out of the depression if they try. They don’t understand that depression has biological roots and isn’t volitional.

Complicating things, it can be hard for non-depressed people to spend protracted periods of time with someone who is very depressed without feeling dragged down themselves.

Even though your best friend doubted you, I suspect it was because of lack of knowledge. Don’t blame yourself for provoking her. Remember that your friend supported you when you needed her. I presume you are recovering and as a result of your bout with depression, your friend has learned a few things about the disorder. Continue to sensitize her to what you were experiencing, express your gratitude for her being there and continue to be a good friend to her.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Comments (4)

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  1. Sam says:

    Great post! I read this because I have a friend who suffers from depression and lately she’s been distancing herself from our group of friends. Thanks for your post, it gave me a little more insight into what her situation might be like.

  2. Sheryl Kraft says:

    Such good advice. It is really the old saying – that you never know until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes – that applies here. For someone not familiar with mental illness, it is very hard to imagine the repercussions it can have on another person.

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

    I had a friend years ago, who suffered very badly with depression. I did not understand her at the time, but I was enlightened by someone else, that indeed it is a chemical imbalance that the persons suffering can do nothing about, unless they get medical and sympathetic help from professionals. However, friends who do understand this condition can be of great help if they just ask the person suffering if there is anything they can do to help the situation. Even if they can’t, just knowing that someone is there for you can give a lot of emotional strength to continue towards healing of the condition. And Bonnie, you could be the person who teaches your friend how to help you and others in the same situation. Ask if she’d be willing to learn from you.

  4. Amy F says:

    If your friend is supportive now, I agree about forgiving her. People often don’t know what they don’t know. Googling a mental disorder is different than understanding the condition, having it or knowing someone who suffers. Depression, as you know, is a medical illness, but many people do not. Additionally, some people have a more difficult time empathizing unless they can see or feel the experience personally,

    Think about how difficult your depression can be on you. Sometimes people dealing with mental illness have to work so hard to be okay just to function, they can forget their illness impacts others and their relationships. Just because your friend doesn’t have depression doesn’t mean her life is easy or she doesn’t have “stuff”. Sometimes even the best of friends need to set boundaries about how much they can tolerate at a given moment in time. This is healthy. Recognizing you may have relied on your friend too much will help you moving forward.

    I think having a conversation with your friend about communication and agreeing that she can tell you if you’re asking too much and you can tell her if she’s not understanding in a way you can hear might be really helpful.

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