I have a friend who is exhibiting the characteristic signs of depression. He complains of always being tired, has lost interest in activities that he once enjoyed and is losing friends. He is self-conscious and bullied in school. I assume the best course of action is for my friend to see a therapist or some other trained professional, and I’ve told his parents this. However, my friend refuses to go. Is there anything I, or his parents, can do to help?
Right off the bat, I noticed how much you’re looking out for your friend. This is so important and commendable, as your friend can really benefit from someone to turn to like you, so thank you for being there for them! I think a first step, if you have not already done this, would be to let your friend know that you care about them a lot, and that you’re there to support them no matter what. A simple “How was your day?” can matter so much to someone by letting them know that someone cares about how they’re doing, no matter how mundane their day may have in fact been. You care deeply about them — let them know!
While you can offer your friend support and empathy, keep in mind that it is not your responsibility to “fix” their depression. Depression is often extremely complex in how it manifests and affects an individual, so at this point in time the most important thing that you can do is to recognize that your friend might be suffering from it.
Though you can’t cure them yourself, there are definitely some things you can do to help out. You mentioned that your friend is being bullied at school — if you’re present when you notice it happening, try to stand up for them. I’m not sure how severe the extent of the bullying is, but if it’s something like others verbally berating your friend, you should do your best to intervene. If it’s not something you can stop yourself, pull an adult into the situation to help. You said that the bullying takes place at school, so if you find yourself unsure of what to do with the situation at hand, ask a teacher or guidance counselor to resolve the immediate situation — they are trained to be able to stop the bullying as it is happening. It’s really important to be there for your friend in these instances, as being bullied can greatly affect one’s self confidence and potentially worsen feelings of sadness or self-deprecation.
You can also make efforts to be a good listener. Just being heard is also significant to your friend — depression can sometimes make someone feel like their voice is not being heard, or that they’re being silenced. Moreover, they can feel like their thoughts aren’t of importance, or even that they’re a bother to others. Remember that you are their friend, not their therapist, so please try not to play the role of the therapist or feel obligated to. Spending time with friends, trusted adults or family members is crucial to individuals with depression, and their support systems often have a great deal of impact on their day-to-day lives.
Finally, you can talk to them about therapy again. This doesn’t mean to nag them about it or try to push them to go, but to convey to them that speaking with a therapist might help them, and perhaps they will have a change of heart. If you or their parents force them to go to counseling unwillingly, it’s more likely that the sessions won’t be as helpful, if at all. They are currently not willing to go, and though the reason is unclear right now, it is likely that they either refuse to believe that they need help, or deep down be frightened of the prospect of going. Counseling does have its stigmas — for example, some people believe that “it’s only for people with something wrong with them” — but that’s simply not true; it can be truly beneficial for anyone going through a tough time, and can help you better deal with anything emotional.
No matter why the idea of counseling is currently unwelcome to them, reinforce that it’s probably a good thing for them to try. Try asking them why they don’t want to see a therapist so you can find out more about the reason why they aren’t interested. Counseling is like talking through your issues with a friend that is a trained listener and has concrete ways to help you work through your issues. In some ways, it is better than talking out your issues with friends and family because professional counselors have pretty solid ideas that have been proven to help, and can be tailored to the individual. Having a friend is great sometimes — you are around the same age and have had shared experiences and feelings — but often they may not know what is best to say, nor do they necessarily know what will be best for you moving forward.
Additionally, you can suggest for them to go to the Wellness Center, as it’s a great on-campus resource with trained professionals for them to talk privately with about what they’re going through, and can connect them to help. The Wellness Center may be a more welcome idea for them since scheduling therapy sessions and finding a therapist can be a bit of a daunting task.
I sincerely hope that your friend’s condition improves. Just know that you’re doing the best you can to be a supportive and great friend! Depression is unfortunately more common than we like to talk about — the recent California Healthy Kids Survey of Palo Alto High School reported that 23 percent of Paly students have had “chronic feelings of hopelessness or depression for more than two weeks in a row” — an alarmingly high rate. When you walk around campus, at least one in every four or five people you see has struggled with feelings of depression, so it’s all the more important that we genuinely try to be kind to everyone we meet and interact with. Thank you again for looking out for your friend — I truly hope that your friend (and everyone, really) has more friends like yourself.