In this article, we will talk about how a friend can try to help another even though they are depressed and pushing people away. The article will explain why people, when depressed, tend to isolate themselves, what is the role of social support in dealing with depression, and how friends and loved ones can help a person with depression.
Depression is a mental illness that afflicts about 5% of the world’s population. In today’s world, it is quite common to know someone that is living with depression, but when it happens to someone you love it can be a heartbreaking and challenging experience.
A person, when depressed, experiences deep feelings of sadness, apathy, and lack of purpose. They might push people away because they might not want to show themselves in such a vulnerable moment. A person when depressed also feels a low sense of self-worth and has a diminished ability to be surrounded by other people.
They also might not want to get hurt, this feeling is associated with the idea that people might get tired of them and leave, so it is easier to shut people out than lose them in the future. It also happens that they might feel unworthy of the care and attention that friends and family members are willing to give them and don’t want to bring anyone down with them.
All those are reasons why people with depression might close themselves off. When that happens, friends and loved ones might feel a great sense of helplessness, and that might be one of the hardest feelings to deal with when trying to help a loved one but also one of the most important to learn how to cope with.
Embracing your helplessness allows you to understand that you can’t change your friend’s situation, what can be done is to show you are available to listen and be supportive.
So how can I help my friend that is going through depression?
Listen in a caring and supportive way
Although sometimes it may be hard to listen to a friend you hold so dear to your heart saying such dark and sad thoughts, a good way to help is to listen, to make them feel supported, acknowledged in their suffering, and that they have someone to count on.
In dealing with depression it is more important to listen than to give a solution to it, even though you can offer some suggestions, as you see an opportunity to it, small tips might help your friend move out of the negative spiral of thought, but be careful to choose the moment to do so.
Don’t assume you know how your friend is feeling
Sometimes, to give your friend the notion that you are open to hearing and support them at anything they might want to say or do, a person might make use of the sentence “I understand how you feel”, that sentence in fact can draw a great distance between the person that is depressed and who is trying to help.
In saying that phrase you are saying in the subtext that you have experienced feelings similar to the one the person in depression feels, but that might not be true. The sadness and lack of hope experienced when depressed is a lot different from the negative feelings one might experience in their day to day life. So instead of helping you relate to your friend, it might only distance it more.
Enjoy the fun moments
A person that is depressed will not be sad and cry all the time. They have moments when they feel a little better and can enjoy some interaction. It won’t be going to a club or anything like that, but enjoy those moments to have good conversations and enjoy each other’s company.
Don’t take things personally
When a person is depressed their actions and reactions are controlled by their emotional state. They might want to see you one day and avoid you the next, this doesn’t have to do with you, it usually just means that the person needs some alone time or even doesn’t want to be a burden to their friends and family members.
Take care of your mental health
One of the most important things, when giving emotional support to someone, is to take care of your health. Try to separate how your friend feels from how you feel, understand that you don’t have to absorb all those negative thoughts.
You can sympathize with what your friend is going through but not be overly empathetic as to take those feelings with you. Being the primary caretaker of a person with depression can be draining and overwhelming, because of that it is important to ask for help.
Enroll people in your life to help before you feel yourself being drained by it. Making a plan to deal with your life necessities, such as work or study, and helping your friend, can leave you with a sense of relief that you are not abandoning them, but rather that you are taking care of them and yourself.
Embrace your negative feelings
It is completely normal to feel angry and irritated when supporting someone dealing with depression. It can be frustrating dealing with the ups and downs of depression and how it is affecting the people that you hold so dear to your heart.
So don’t feel guilty about the times you just want to leave everything behind, but just try to remember that what is causing all this trouble is not your friend, depression is in control and you are both just trying to navigate and find the best way out of that situation.
Recognize the limits of friendship and suggest professional help
Sometimes, even though we are offering all the support that is possible to a person with depression, we’ve got to understand that there is a difference between our support and the support of a professional.
When the depression goes on for long, or the person is showing they are having suicidal thoughts it is important to encourage them to look for professional help. By doing that you won’t be abandoning your friend, instead, you will show how careful and attentive you are.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ): How to help a friend with depression that is pushing me away?
How can I tell if my friends don’t like me anymore?
There are some signs to help you figure out if your friend is not interested in the friendship anymore, those signs can be:
Your friend stops listening to you
One important thing to pay attention to is if the person listens to you with care, asks questions, and wants to know more about what you are saying or they only agree with anything you say and mostly just want to talk about themselves? When that’s the case, it might seem like they are not interested in sharing anymore.
They don’t help or show their support during hard time?
When a person is not interested in being a friend anymore, they tend to not put so much energy into that relationship, so it can be easier to be together when things are okay but, as soon as you might need their help and support, they won’t be available to help you.
They don’t know who you are
To get to know who a friend is, we need to have deep conversations, share goals and dreams and effectively listen to what the other is saying. So if that’s not the case, it might mean that they are only friends for superficial things.
They are not happy for you
A real friend should be happy for your accomplishments, if you share a piece of good news with them and they only show deprecating comments or start questioning what you are sharing, it means that they are not happy for you.
They make no time for the relationship
One of the most important things, so a relationship can develop, is quality time together. If your friend doesn’t make the effort to try and meet, share experiences, and make themselves present in your life, even if online, this might indicate that this can be a one-sided relationship.
But with all that said, just try to remember that if your friend is dealing with depression, it is not that they don’t want to be friends anymore, it is just how depression is affecting them right now.
Why am I always the one reaching out to my friends?
It might indicate how dedicated you are to your friendships. It is important to understand that people have different intensities of investment in friendships, so not everyone is a friend the same way as you do. Prioritize yourself and your needs and choose who you want to have in your life.
One thing that might be helpful in these situations is to try and understand which friends you can count on for different life situations. There can be friends that are good listeners, the ones you can call in crises, ones that are fun to go out with, and the ones that are practically family. Once you understand that each relationship is different, it can help you a lot.
Can people go back to being friends?
Yes, it is always possible to go back to being friends. But to that, the first thing is to understand why the friendship ended in the first place and when you know that, decide if you want to bring this person back to your life.
If you decided you want to give this friendship another try, you can make the first contact and see how the person will react to it, if they are also open to being friends again, a good talk that makes it clear that you both are forgiving each other for past mistakes and letting go of what was can be a good idea. After that, it will be the time to create a new bond, memories, and experiences together.
How do I move on from a friendship?
The first thing to do is understand what happened and give yourself time to grieve the loss. Every time we go through a rupture of a bond we will go through a grieving process, and that is important to process the loss.
It is important to always have in mind that no friendships will last forever, some people will come to your life for a determined time and when they go it is important to learn to let go. Embrace all the good things you lived through because those will be memories you will cherish forever.
Open yourself up to the other people you have in your life. They might help you realize that you are worth being friends with and how important it is to have people that listen and support you. And if necessary, set clear boundaries, you don’t need to keep in touch if you don’t feel like it.
Are there levels of friendship?
Yes. There are four levels of friendship. They are:
People usually have a lot of them. Those are the ones that you don’t share much with and still don’t have a trusting relationship with.
A person might have many of them. With them, you talk about opinions and have some trust in them.
People usually only have a few close friends, they are the people you share some of your life goals and weaknesses with and already have a bond of trust.
A person usually has very few of those. With them, one can share their dreams and most intimate details and share the highest level of trust.
In this article we talked about how it is normal for people with depression to try to isolate themselves, that it doesn’t have anything to do with not liking their friends or family members anymore, it mostly has to do with how they feel.
The article also discussed the important role social support has in helping someone with depression and how hard it can be to see someone you love in such intense suffering.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to leave your comments in the section below.
Marver JE, Galfalvy HC, Burke AK, Sublette ME, Oquendo MA, Mann JJ, Grunebaum MF. Friendship, Depression, and Suicide Attempts in Adults: Exploratory Analysis of a Longitudinal Follow-Up Study. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2017 Dec;47(6):660-671.