Why is it So Hard to Help My Depressed Friend?

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness   (c)2016 Nancy Virden

photo-24722713-blur-image-of-a-beautiful-young-woman.I wondered what God could use me for- what good deeds I could do if I stayed alive. Yet in no way could I feel hope. I felt solemn dread as if shut up in a dark cave alone.

Drenched in anguish, I stared at my apartment walls, stayed days in bed, or obsessed over emails wanting someone, anyone, to let me know they care.

When an email came it was never good enough. My perception was that no one could or ever would care, so each act of kindness toward me was used as a measuring stick of that person’s insincerity. Long emails meant someone cared more. Did they ask about me? They care a little more. Do they want a reply? Come back for more?

Nothing was enough. My world was the size of this typed O,  and all that was in it was me and pain. Inwardly I demanded that love be proven while I wrote off anyone who tried.

This was major depression.

On the outside, a person in a major depressive episode may withdraw, and it can look like a rejection of those around. It is easy to confuse this behavior with selfishness, self-centeredness, apathy, laziness, manipulation,  “quitting”, or spiritual weakness. 

That may be why it is difficult to help your depressed friend. Your love may be strong as ever for your pal, but being with them proves tiring. It hurts because the relationship is temporarily one-sided.  

Your friend’s needs might have a tight hold on your schedule and guilt-levels. You are also scared because it is impossible to know for sure if everything will be alright. 

You have your own life to manage and mental health to protect. You have more options than to “allow them some space” or become exhaustion. You can thrive and still be effective support.

It is never in our friend’s best interests for us to take on the role of advisor or medical expert. One of the best ways to offer healthy support is to encourage a person with depression to accept professional help.

Gain Insight and Set Boundaries

1) Educate yourself on the symptoms of depression and learn what it may be like for your friend. Although each person is different, much of the struggle is common. It is important to remember major depression is complex, and every person has to learn how to cope with it.

2) Ask, “what must I have in my daily life to experience joy and to meet my personal goals?” Any answer to the question is fine as long as you are honest and considerate of your needs and commitments. Be specific. Have a good idea of your capabilities and a time frame of availability in mind before continuing with this process.

3) Ask your hurting friend what he needs. Listen well. It may be a difficult question for him to answer. Narrow your question to what your friend may need that you can give, then narrow it again to what you can do today within your ability and availability limits. For example, if the answer is, “I want you here with me,” you have the opportunity to schedule visits. 

4) Know what to say YES to. Whatever you decide to do for your friend will force an even exchange with some other choice. Know your meaningful priorities and keep up with them.

5) Give yourself permission to have your own legitimate needs and to get them met. This is crucial because you matter too, and your friendship may be threatened if you ignore taking care of yourself. Lack of self-care can lead to burn-out and resentment. 

Don’t forget that by taking care of yourself you are making a healthy and helpful decision.

Compassionate love learns boundaries.


Comments are always welcome (see tab below).  NOTE: I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help are yours.


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