Help for My High School Friend After an Injury

Reader’s Question

I am a high school student at a small private school with a question about my friend. I was best friends with let’s call her “Sam” since the 4th grade. Suddenly last year (10th grade) “Sam” injured her knee extremely bad and was in a lot of pain. This caused her to no longer be able to play sports, which she loves. All of a sudden she seemed to go into a depression. As her best friend I was very worried and tried to do everything I could to help her. The doctor put her on some heavy pain pills that she claims ate away at her stomach. Anytime she ate anything acidic, or fattening she would get terrible stomach pains. Sam had always been self conscience about her weight and rarely ate in front of people; however, she was slightly overweight. She also went through a very long spell where she could not sleep for days and she had very dark circles under her eyes. Another sickness she had was some infection where she said her heart hurt a lot.

With her knee pains, stomach problems, lack of sleep and mystery infection, she missed so much school. Her grades also suffered terribly. The strangest part was that when she was both on and off medication she confided in me that she was hallucinating at night where a strange man was in her room and trying to hurt her and her sister. This came along with a recurring dream that someone would kidnap her and kill her. This obviously worried me very much.

Another very strange thing was whenever she was at school her homework assignments that she said she completed always went missing. Soon after that happened, her Bible in her locker was torn to shreds. This continued where many homework assignments in her locker and backpack would get torn up. She would always blame it on another girl she claimed didn’t like her. But I just don’t think anyone disliked her enough to do something like that. Many people became suspicious that maybe she was doing this herself. As if these things were not strange enough, this year she really withdrew from our friendship and her other very close friend. We didn’t know what to think. We finally found out the problem and she accused us of saying things to her that we never said. Close to all of it was made up or extremely fabricated. She is no longer our friend since then. I believe there is some kind of mental issue here. Can you tell me what you think this could be?

Psychologist’s Reply

A severe physical injury and the treatment and recovery time necessary to repair the injury can significantly disorganize the patient, his/her family, and their relationships with others. If we think about the events of the injury experience:

  1. We have a severe injury that is incapacitating. Our plans and hobbies are no longer possible.
  2. Treatment is very painful, pain meds are used, and we have a lot of attention from everyone for several weeks.
  3. After a few weeks, our pain decreases but it’s still difficult to do anything…yet friends/family see us back to school so our attention from others decreases.
  4. We are now depressed and lonely and begin to seek ways to obtain the same level of attention we received when we were first injured.
  5. People now feel we’re attention-seeking so they ignore our need for attention even more.
  6. By this time we are now resentful, hostile, and jealous that our life has been severely changed by the injury yet every friend is going about their life as usual.

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Your friend may be severely depressed. Sadly, the family may be focusing on her physical recovery — not her emotional recovery from the injury. If they find her attention-seeking, they may view that as a behavior problem and not see the behavior as part of a depression. Your friend has gone through some serious changes in her life and is having difficulty returning to her past life. She would benefit from contact with a mental health professional who can evaluate her for depression/anxiety as well as help her with the return to normal life. If your friend is uncooperative, and many are, you might be able to mention your concerns to her parents or siblings.

If you try to be of help, your friend may become angry with you. Her anger will be uncomfortable for you. However, helping angry people is part of being a mature and responsible adult — even when you’re in the 10th grade. You have made a very mature and intelligent decision to seek advice to help your friend. That’s an adult-level decision. You recognized the situation and made a responsible decision. Well done. Your friend should actually be thankful and honored that she has a friend as responsible and concerned as you.

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