How to Support a Depressed Friend
anonymous Asks ...
What can you do when your friend is depressed and they tell you they don’t want you to call or come over anymore? Do you just ignore their wishes and go over anyway or is it better to respect their wishes because seeing friends makes them feel worse?
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
It is natural to want to support a friend when they are depressed. It is also natural to try and support that friend in the same way that you would want to be supported. The real challenge is to work out what you can do that will be helpful for that friend as well as be percieved by your friend as supportive.
There is no single correct answer about what to do if your friend states that they don't want you to call or come over any more. The specifics of the situation are really important. Let's look at a few exmples.
If the depressed friend has a history of periods of severe depression, that friend may have already realized that they need social contact to help them heal emotionally but also will know that this is something that will be rejected when they are depressed. In this case, the friend may already have spoken with you to indicate that no matter what they say that they hope you will continue to engage them. If something like this is the case, then ontinuing to engage woudl actually be respecting their wishes and not continuing would be respecting the depression rather than the friend's wishes.
If on the other hand, the trigger for this particular depressive episode is related to something that the depressed friend feels ashamed of and that this occurred in connection to you, then the depressed friend may need time away from you to process what took place before they can engage with you. If you are engaging too early, this may actually not help your friend and in fact reverse any progress that they have made. In this case, you might want to respect their wishes for you to give them some space and support other friends that are still able to visit.
Another possibility is that the depressed friend is not finding the contact to be supportive. In this case, the depressed friend does not necesarily want to stop you from visiting or making contact, but simply desires that this be conducted in a different way. This is where it is important to understand what is actually seen as support. The answer to this is certainly different from person to person but it can also vary for a particular person from time to time. This is a delicate area to consider. You have to be willing to be very honest with yourself and truly look at the situation through the depressed friend's glasses. Sometimes other mutual friends can be helpful when you are considering this.
In addition to these kinds of considerations, there are other factors that you shoudl consider. Is your depressed friend getting professional help? How long has the depression lasted and is this appropriate for an event that took place? (For example, if their spouse just died two weeks ago, depression is a normal response.) Is your friend at risk because of their depression - this could be in terms of suicide or just self harm from neglect? Does the depressed friend have other supports? Are there other ways to be supportive (truly supportive) that respect the limits the depressed friend has instituted?
The good news is that while this is a difficult decision, if you do think through it carefully, it is possible to come to a conclusion that will determine how to proceed. As you do proceed, you will be considering the situation from the depressed friend's viewpoint, truly respecting them and preserving their human dignity in the situation. As you do this, it is possible to work out what to do so that both you and your frined are able to be on a path towards wholeness and peace.