How Can I Help a Friend Who is Depressed?

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Reader’s Question

My closest friend is going through a depression. Since she is keeping up appearances to me and does not want anyone to know about it (she never shows her feelings), I only hear about what’s going on from other sources, and I worry a lot. She’s 15 and she’s very talented.

We are extremely close, but right now I feel like we’re very much apart. I do not know how to address the problem because I fear that she might reject me and refuse to talk to me altogether, and this could be the worst thing for her. I feel that if I alter my attitude she might get scared. I am her only friend and her only accomplice. I know she is very lonely. I try to go out with her as much as I can, but my studies sometimes get in the way and she suffers severely from it, and so do I.

I know that she is suffering physically from her depression; I even fear she might be self-harming (and I have reasons to believe she already has done so). I don’t know what to do any more. I worry a lot, and I know nothing about how to deal with depression. I fear the worst. What can I do?

Psychologist’s Reply

First, allow me to congratulate you on being such a good friend. She is lucky to have someone who cares so much about her. As a counselor, let me assure you that I know exactly how you feel, and that is: helpless. It is very difficult to stand by and watch someone suffer but, especially in the case of depression, there is not much you can do until she is ready for help.

From your letter, it sounds like you are doing all that you possibly can. You are there for her both physically (by going out together) and emotionally, so if she feels like talking about whatever is bothering her, you are there. However, you cannot allow her situation to negatively affect your life as well. You didn’t mention how old you are but I assume you are close to her in age. If so, then school is an important factor in your life and you probably have family, other friends and extracurricular activities to occupy your time and interest as well. This is as it should be, and hopefully your friend feels the same way. A good friend will want her friend to be happy even if she herself is not.

Depression and self-harm can be quite serious, especially at the age your friend is. There is not much you can do for her other than what you’re already doing, so perhaps it is time to ask for help from caring adults. Your school counselor would be a good place to start or maybe your parents or hers could have some good ideas. If nothing else, your friend could visit a website like Teen Health and Wellness, which provides a list of hotlines she can call, or a site like, which gives people a place to read about and connect with others who are experiencing the same thing. The site even has a section on how to Help Your Friend, that might be helpful for you as well. If you do not live in the United States, you might search for local hotlines and websites.

In short, neither of you has to go through this alone. Sometimes taking a community approach by letting others help is better for everyone involved.

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