Difficulties of befriending the depressed

In research efforts to understand the effects of depression on friendships and even on casual acquaintances, two key findings have emerged: Interacting with a depressed friend can leave you feeling depressed and angry, and there are specific types of interactions, easily identified, that can increase your friends depression. If they are not corrected, depressive interactions can dismantle social support, which are particularly damaging to the depressed person.

One common feature of a depressed person’s interactions with others is that due to the distress they communicate, people are engaged quickly and left feeling responsible.

… With increased interest and a sense of responsibility, the burden of the interaction shifts onto the nondepressed person. In this context, the depressed person’s distress can be aversive and guilt inducing. If this happens repeatedly, offers of support to the depressed person are fewer and less heartfelt. This is one of the essential characteristics of the depressive dance we told you about. For example, you may attempt to hide your aversive reactions by outwardly providing the support being asked for, but you may still communicate your impatience, hostility, and rejection even if you are not describing those feelings explicitly. The subtle hostility and rejection that the depressed person gets confirms her sense of worthlessness and leads to more expressions of distress; the pattern of alienation continues.

If you are involved in such a pattern, it is easy to see how you could become depressed and hostile when you spend time with your depressed friend. You may feel overly responsible for how she is feeling because you feel as if you are being asked for help, but nothing you do seems to offer relief. You end up feeling as if you are failing your friend in a time of need because your attempts to help do nothing to lift their spirits. Making matters worse for the relationship, you feel guilty that your desire to spend time with your friend is rapidly waning. You feel angry about having to carry so much guilt and burden, and you feel increasingly helpless to do anything about the depression or your reactions to it.

  • pg. 105, When Someone You Love Is Depressed – Laura Rosen & Xavier Amador, ISBN 978-0-684-83407-8
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