We all have off days, but what if there comes a point when these off days seem to turn into something deeper and more worrying, and what if all this is affecting your friend? It can be hard to put a finger on what’s troubling a friend, even if you’ve known them a long time. If you’re lucky they may tell you they feel depressed, but often they won’t because it’s hard to comprehend and it carries a lot of stigma.
As a friend you’ve probably reached a point where their excuses that nothing is wrong are wearing thin. You’ve seen a gradual change over the weeks. You’ve watched how they’ve become more sullen and detached. You’ve heard the way everything is spoken of in black or white terms. They look like they’re carrying the worries of the world on their shoulders. But what do you do?
Most friendships are based on some form of mutual trust and understanding. Not surprisingly you don’t want to undermine this by putting your foot in it. There’s a line you may feel you shouldn’t cross in terms of what is and isn’t your business, but then again you feel you’d fail as a friend if you didn’t do something. Here are some things to consider:
Talking is the most obvious way into a personal problem but be careful how you go about things. You may feel fit to burst because you’ve bottled up your frustrations and concerns but adopting the, ‘okay, I give up, what’s wrong?’ approach is too clumsy and will most likely backfire. Introduce the notion that things seem different through general conversation. If your friend becomes detached you might just ask, ‘penny for them?’ and they may answer. If they pass a general comment about their mood or behavior it may be the time to acknowledge that you’ve noticed too.
A friend can be hugely important but the best things you can do is listen, talk about things in general rather than specific terms and avoiding any home-baked diagnosis like, ‘I think you’re clinically depressed.’ These assumptions may be correct but it’s really up to a qualified diagnostician to run the tests. Mood changes can come about become of physical problems so don’t make assumptions.
There are things a person will sometimes tell a friend that they would find hard to tell a spouse for instance. It’s because the role relationship is entirely different. As a friend you need to allow the person to operate at their pace. You can’t press your friend to seek help, although you might agree it’s a good idea. Also remember that your friend’s burden is actually theirs not yours to carry. Your consistency as a friend may be the very thing that helps the most. So be sensitive, be there, but also be prepared to step back when required. What more could a friend ask.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.