Depressed Friends

Parent Q&A

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  • A co-worker is very depressed.  She says she doesn't bathe or get dressed, except once a week, unless she has a Zoom meeting, and she neglects her child (but not intentionally).  Previously she went to a psychiatrist but he wanted to hospitalize her so she left.  She doesn't want our boss to find out.  She missed one work assignment this week due to not receiving it (she said in a meeting), but she just didn't do it.  I think I'm not supposed to tell anyone because she doesn't want me to?  Or because you can't compel someone to get help because it won't work?  She says her daughter is not happy, but she is fed and goes to school; she feels like a bad mom.  I think anything I do would make things worse.  I want to tell my direct supervisor but that even feels like it is inappropriate, like a medical issue I wouldn't tell anyone.  If this were me, I would want everyone to butt out, but the degree of her hopelessness is what is worrying me.  Especially if you work in this field, do you have any advice?

    Does your employer offer any support for things like this? We have an Employee Assistance Program where you submit a request via a 3rd party providers and they will assign you a therapist. I'm wondering if she'd be willing to try medication and see if that helps, if she's able to find someone who will prescribe it. I'd encourage her to find another dr who is a better fit.

    I know a few people at my work who took short term disability to resolve some mental heath issues they were experiencing. Could she take leave for a month to sort things out?

    It sounds like she needs help, does she have any at home? Is it just her? Or does she have a partner or family who can help care for her kiddo? 

    IMO she is telling you because she trusts you. Reporting her at work will do nothing for her. Helping her connect with services that can provide emotional and physical support will benefit her and her child. You can also discuss her potential community supports such as who does she have who may be able to give her some respite care so she can have break from childcare at times or who can she call to do an outside activity with like the park, a walk etc. if you want to be of service there are many ways. Telling your supervisor is not one of those. 

    I am so sorry to hear your co-worker is so depressed and that you are in this place of wanting to help but unsure what's best for her. I do not work in this field, but my daughter went through a major depressive episode last year. I wonder if your co-worker confiding in you is a cry for help? Being in a depressive state was described to me as being at the bottom of a deep well and you're observing the world around you from that place. So she may not be able to get help for herself, but perhaps you can? I realize that is a lot to put on you. I think this is what I would do: try to contact some of her family members to see if they can help. Find some local therapists who are taking clients, give her the names and encourage her to seek their support. My daughter went to an intensive outpatient program -- might there be something like that she could do so that she wouldn't have to go into the hospital? Good luck to you and to her quick recovery.

    This is a sad and difficult situation. It's good you want to help but are also thinking realistically about helping the child.

    I do not work in this field, but since no one else has commented, I respect your desire to help, and I've worked adjacent to the field, here are some ideas for you to consider:

    • You are right: it's hard to compel someone to help themselves, but you can frame things as trying to help the child. By mentioning feeling like a bad mom, your coworker is indicating they want to be a good mother, so they might be open to ideas about things to help the child.
    • How old is the kid? I'm wondering if getting them out of the house and into programs around more people would help open up their world outside of the depressed home. Could the kid get involved in more after school activities or programs to spend time around more people? Maybe offering to help find a suitable program for the kid's interest and not frame it as getting the kid out of the house is realistic?
    • Psychiatrists and hospitalizations for mental health are a mixed bag, so the lack of interest is very understandable. Some people find relief talking to a therapist, who are are trained to listen and help people understand themselves rather than psychiatry that is more focused on medication. Therapists are a mixed bag too, so I suggest people meet at least 5 before choosing one. If you have benefits that can cover therapy, you could try encouraging your coworker to explore that instead of psychiatry. To bring it up with your coworker, I'd suggest validating their bad experience and frame it as doing it for the kid. This is too long, but some ideas: "I'm worried about you. I'm worried that you are suffering with intense depression and that is negatively impacting your child too because it's hard to care for someone when you are suffering. I know you had a bad experience with a psychiatrist, but have you tried taking to a therapist? It can take a few tries to find a therapist who is helpful, but many people find relief from therapy."
    • It's pretty sensitive and risks too much involvement, but sometimes the first step is the hardest and getting mental health care is ridiculously hard considering it's for people who are struggling. Depending on the circumstance, you could help get a list of therapists' contacts together for your coworker to make the appointment. If your workplace doesn't have coverage, sharing resources for people your coworker could talk to could also be great, though it's a little forward. There is the national lifeline helpline they can always call. You don't have to be suicidal to call and your coworker could just call to try out talking to someone. Sometimes there are other regional resources and Alameda and SF counties have helplines too. The helplines often offer text, which can be less intimidating, in addition to phone calls.
    • Exercise is important for helping people feel better and other treatments help some, but I think it's unrealistic that your coworker could hear this from you. They might be able to hear "you deserve to feel better" to inspire them to seek help, but I think your efforts are better spent on trying to help the kid get engaged with people outside of the home so that they don't get sucked into the depression, but I'm sorry I don't have better ideas on how to do that.

    Good luck and I hope things improve. Depression is stubborn and painful.

  • My friendships mean a lot to me.  I'm an only child and my parents are dead, so my friends are my extended family.  I love these people...yet I also care about modeling for my child how to build and nurture healthy friendships.  My son, too, is an only child, and I know how badly he's going to need those life skills.  I find that several of my deeper friendships are with people who battle anxiety and depression.  I likely gravitated to these individuals because I enjoy creative, spiritual people who choose not to simply sleepwalk through life, and I think many people who have fought depression become wise and self-aware from it.  When a long bout of depression rears up, however, the balance of the friendship can quickly become "off."  I expend more energy in their direction--worrying about them, reaching out more often, and trying to be a good listener.  During those times, I often get little from the friendship in return, but I understand they simply don't have as much to give right then.  Sadly, as the years and cycles of depression go by, it can put a the whole of a relationship increasingly off balance.  Sometimes, too, I edit myself for long periods.  When a friend is down, they don't want to hear about my big work success, my travels, my happiness with my spouse, or how over the moon with love I am for my child.  If the period of depression lasts a few months, friendships tend to bounce back.  I've found, though, that when it comes to depression that lasts years, catching up is very hard.  I try to teach my son that he should choose friends who are kind people...and then I struggle to explain why I let it slide that an anxiety-ridden friend left me waiting for an hour in a restaurant *again* even though she picked the time and place.  One of my oldest girlhood friends is particularly prickly, petty, and bitchy when she's struggling, and as I've matured it has been harder to take.  A year ago she posted some ugly, scolding things directly on my Facebook page that embarrassed me in front of important work contacts and embarrassed my family, so I felt I had to unfriend her.  I sent her a message worded as kindly as I could saying that our friendship now needed to use other avenues.  Despite reaching out a couple more times, I haven't heard from her since.  She has at times been suicidal, so I worry about her.  I cringe whenever those social media memes surface about suicide prevention, about being supportive.  Sometimes you try really hard and it isn't good enough.  I keep sifting through what happened and all the ways I could have handled it.  I took the high road and was kind, but it didn't seem to help.  I have experienced deep grief and quite a few hard knocks in my life.  I've even experienced low periods that lasted months and panic attacks.  But I don't know how clinical depression feels.  Are there any good books or articles that could help me better understand?  Any secrets for maintaining balance and not being a doormat while still caring and giving?  For those close to people with depression, how do you explain the condition and their unusual behaviors to your children?  Many thanks for any advice.

    Hi there. In your question I read a larger issue than what you're directly asking: a pattern of co-dependent relationships. The most direct way you stated this was "any secrets for maintaining balance and not being a doormat while still caring and giving?" The secret to this is to recognize the ways in which you may have been modeled co-dependent behaviors and relationships early on in life, and how that might have informed your beliefs about what it means to be a good friend. It might particularly help to notice the ways you are inclined to "fix" or solve problems for people who are struggling. Since this dynamic is rampant in our society, there is absolutely no shame in this recognition. Most of us witnessed co-dependent relationships growing up, so it's normal to feel the way you do. I relate to the experience of having deep, spiritual, sensitive people in my life who also struggle with mental health issues, and needing to find a healthy and balanced relationship to those loved ones.

    When it comes to loved ones with clinical depression and suicidal thoughts, all you can do is hold space and listen. You can't prevent their feelings or fix them. If their words and actions impact you, you can set appropriate boundaries and be supportive from afar if need be. Empathy is beautiful, but co-dependent over-involvement in other people's pain (i.e. obsessing about interactions, worrying about them incessantly) doesn't actually help them. 

    One of the most important things you can do for your kiddo is to model appropriate boundary setting--and you're doing a great job with this in some ways already, as with the Facebook exchange you mentioned. Good boundary setting helps prevent the resentment you describe; for example, if you know a friend has a tendency to leave you hanging, you might say to that person: "If you're more than 20 minutes late I'm going to have to leave." 

    For recovering co-dependents, the work is to know yourself, your needs, your boundaries, and your truth, and to be able to express those needs and boundaries. It's not easy, but it's rewarding when you can set down the burden of fixing and saving others and put your attention and energy on things you can actually control (like your own daily choices and mental health). Ironically when you let go of the need to help, fix, and save others, you can hold space more authentically for their experience, making you a better friend.

    If any of what I've written here resonates for you, I recommend following the Holistic Psychologist on Instagram. She shares many ideas for how to let go of co-dependent behaviors and build conscious awareness in relationship to self and others. You sound like a kind and emotionally intelligent person, and I think you would appreciate her simple and powerful approach.

    If the example you gave of the friend who embarrassed you on Facebook is representative of your broader approach with these types of situations, then I think you are already doing a fine job of balancing kindness and sensitivity with your own need to be respected, attended to, and cared for by your friends. I recommend reading about the 12 step principle of “detaching with love.” Although it is written about primarily in the context of relationships impacted by addiction, it applies to the situations you describe. 

    This is a very difficult situation. I'm glad you're aware of the impacts on your and your children. You might consider reading through information for family and friends and joining a support group such as those offered by CoDA ( or NAMI ( 

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Friend in denial about depression, turning to Scientology

July 2006

I need advice about a friend who is seriously considering becoming a Scientologist. My concern is not with this in itself. But she clearly has issues with mental illness, namely depression. I know this because I also suffer from it and without going into detail, we met through this connection. She has a pattern of denying this and trying to find other ''remedies''. I am not suggesting that a healthy spiritual life cannot help her a great deal. But there is just a certain level in which you can just tell a person really needs therapy and possibly medication, especially when these other attempts at other solutions have repeatedly failed. We are relatively close, but not close enough that I feel I can just talk with her directly without her alienating her. My concern is with the churches incredibly naive view of psychiatry. Their assumption that those who suffer from real mental illnesses are not aware of all the risks is in my opinion, arrogant. While I am no fan of drug companies and understand that there are several uneducated patients using drugs, there are so many that do know. But there seems to be a very real lack of comprehension in the Church that many people will take these risks because the alternative is WORSE! They also have a very limited knowledge on the subject, too. They don't seem to appreciate the various combined steps that doctors and patients take together - it's not all about walking into a doctor's office, saying you feel sad and they prescribing a pill. I fear that the Church will steer her away from examining treatment she may really need. I know that there are irresponsible doctors out there. But a responsible doctor looks for multiple types of treatment to help a patient - and these doctors DO exist. My strong sense is that this is really what my friend may need. Does anyone have any advice on how I may approach my friend with my concerns without completely shutting her off? Thanks Anon

Ultimately your friend is going to do what she's going to do, but I hope she doesn't get involved with Scientology. It's cultish and will cost her in true friends and money and will probably not help with her depression. In fact, it could be deadly since she will be discouraged from getting any sort of scientifically-supported treatment. I don't know how you might approach her on the subject, but Wikipedia has a pretty impartial description of the ''religion'' that you could use to discuss it with her without sounding judgemental. If you could figure out a way to offer an alternative so she doesn't need to be pinned in by Scientology's odd and strict belief structure, that would probably help. Maybe you could invite her to a traditional church instead? Dunno. Good luck

I had this same problem with a friend who chose to treat her depression by taking classes at Landmark Forum (the new name for ''est''; it has lots in common with Scientology). You could try some of the things I tried: express your genuine concern about the depression and your belief that therapy is the most effective way to address it; offer to help find a good therapist that will be on her side; provide some concrete reasons why the ''alternative'' solution seems like a bad idea (i.e., Scientology is based on science fiction and uses a pyramid scheme; you could direct her to a reputable website about this. You can get a lot of info from Wikipedia, with links to critical sites at the bottom of the page.) You could talk to her family and friends and try to get them to talk to her too. But in the end, you can't make someone do the right thing for herself. I think Scientology and est are basically cults that can do real harm to vulnerable people. My friend ended up spending all her time and money in Landmark classes and her condition only got worse. She ended up alienating many of her most valuable resources (family and friends) because they couldn't share her new belief system and got sick of her constant attempts to recruit them. I think she is finding her own way, but I am sorry I wasn't able to help her. Just don't beat yourself up if your friend doesn't accept what you have to offer. I will be interested to see what others have to say anon

I am a Scientologist and I think that you should be completely honest with your friend. It sounds to me like you care a great deal for her and you only have the best intentions. You have very strong viewpoints about Scientology and Scientologists and, to preserve your friendship, I would tone those down. She may feel offended and might stop listening at that point.

On a personal note;I am very much opposed to taking drugs for mental illness. My convictions are not based on Scientology teachings, but purely on my own research and experience. I received a tremendous amount of information from the following Yahoo Group: Crusaders/

In case you wonder; this group has absolutely nothing to do with Scientology. It's a group similar to BPN where people post their viewpoints and experiences. Many of the people have either been on antidepressants or have lost someone because of them. I have saved several posts, because they displayed such horrendous truth and pain. Feel free to e-mail me and I'll forward them to you. Or join the group and get the data yourself.

To me, Scientology is a holistic approach to mental health. And, as with holistic or homeopathic care; no drugs are involved. EVER! If it isn't for her, she can always turn to something else.

I think my friend is depressed - what should I do?

Sept 2002

I am increasingly worried about a friend. Since her second child was born nearly 2 years ago, she has been lethargic & getting more so. She has put on weight, lets her kids watch lots of TV, stays home a lot & in fact, has lost interest in just about everything except shopping. She seems on a mad drive to acquire stuff, mainly clothes & jewelry. She does a lot of internet browsing & shopping & also orders a lot from catalogs. I am not sure how much but there seems to be a constant supply of deliveries to her house. None of it seems to make her happy & in fact, some of it seems to stay in the boxes or unworn in her closet. Her husband - a lawyer - works really long hours & she is on her own a lot, especially during the week. She is also in charge of the finances which is a really bad idea. I guess they are doing well but she has made a few remarks recently that hint they may have debts & she is not telling her husband about them. I think she needs help, but I don't know what sort & for what. Does it sound like she is depressed? Her marraige seems fine & she is mostly cheerful but she does seem to have problems & sometimes it seems like she wants to talk but I don't know what to say & what to advise. Should I ask if she wants to get therapy? Debt counselling? Does anyone know of a therapist who works this problem. I don't want to approach her husband & am not sure what to do. Thanks. anonymous, please

It seems like your friend may very well be depressed. I would encourage her to go for an evaluation with a therapist or psychiatrist. I would also encourage her to discuss the situation with her husband. If she won't, then I would tell her that I would, especially if you think she or the kids may be at risk. There is a psychologist in Berkeley who specializes in ''money issues'' but I would first deal with the depression. He may be able to address that too. His name is Paul Minsky, Ph.D. 524-0700 good luck

Yes it does sound like your friend is depressed; any kind of compulsive behavior can be a sign of depression: drinking, eating, gambling, spending, etc., and these behaviors are usually a symptom of the depression and not the cause. And left untreated, postpartum depression can last for years. Having suffered from PPD myself, I would suggest you ''be there'' for your friend as much as you can, tell her that you are aware that she may be unhappy and you want to help her, without any pressure, and let her know that you're there to listen if she wants to talk. Women suffering from PPD usually crave contact with other people (adults, that is) and she might be very relieved if you were to bring it up first. You don't have to know what to say, just the fact that you're there for her if she needs to talk will probably be an enormous relief to her. Eventually you can talk about therapy but I'd bet that you taking that first step would make a huge difference to her. A good resource, for you and for her, is Good luck Jill

Unless your friend is specifically asking you for help, none of this is any of your business. These issues are between your friend and her husband and if you want to remain her friend, I'd advise you to stay out of it. anon

The behaviors you describe sound like they come directly from Debtor's Anonymous literature listing the ''sign posts'' of a compulsive debtor. Compulsive spending and debting can be an addiction like alcohol or drugs. It sounds like this a close friend, and you would like to be able to help her. You could try sitting her down and telling her that you are concerned and why. For more information about compulsive debting and spending the web sites for Debtor's Anonymous are: National: Bay Area: anonymous

Your friend does sound depressed, despite the cheerful mood when you see her. Especially since you noticed the change right after having a baby. I don't know how close you are, but I would approach her, not her husband. Maybe you can honestly and gently tell her what you have noticed. Maybe she would be happy and relieved to know that someone noticed. Maybe she doesn't even realize how she is. She sounds like she may be lonely, overwhelmed with all the childcare, household running, etc...Sounds like her husband may be too busy supporting his family to even really notice. I could go on further, but won't here. Feel free to call me if you would like to talk more. I feel for her. She is lucky to have a friend like you. Lisa

Wow, what a charged situation. The hair practically stood up on my neck.

I'd agree your friend is depressed and is a shopaholic. BUT I can't see ANY way you can tell her without completely alienating her. You could talk to her husband, but I'd bet that would alienate her, too, eventually. I think your concern for your friend is laudable, but confronting her with the info is sure to end your friendship completely.

The only thing I can think of that would still save your friendship is to draw her out--invite her to come out of the house to do active things and gradually start conversations about her newly poor health and about the frantic shopping. Tough situation; I don't envy you. Good luck. Jennie

As someone who knows depression well, it does sound to me as though your friend is depressed, and she's VERY FORTUNATE to have a friend thinking about her well-being! Rather than tackling the problem straight-on, if you have the time and inclination, how about telling her that you'd like to start a walking (or some other active) regimine and you'd love to have some company. She needs to get out of the house and get her blood moving; this should raise her energy level and spirits. anon