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In the past year I’ve seen a noticeable change in my friend Darla’s mood. Darla and I worked together at a coffee shop one summer when I was in between advertising gigs. I wouldn’t call Darla a best friend, but we had a special connection that summer and a lot of frivolous fun. We see each other every two months and it’s always easy to connect. Until recently Darla has never cancelled on a date. However over the last 6 months my general feeling that she is struggling with depression has turned into a true concern. She mentioned a year ago that she felt stuck in her job, but other than that, she hasn’t mentioned anything too turbulent or saddening going on in her life. The last two times we’ve gotten together she’s seemed really down and most recently she cancelled on our coffee date. I think my friend is depressed. How do I go about making sure she’s okay?
-Friend in a Funk
Dear Friend in a Funk,
You are a good friend. It is so vital to have friends in our lives who are invested enough in our well-being to not only keep the relationship going but to dig in with us when we aren’t being ourselves. Even simple check-ins from a friend can make a powerful statement that there is someone else who cares about us and that they notice something is different.
With many part-time funks or even mental health struggles it can sometimes be quite difficult to recognize that you are struggling. You think you are holding it all together, making things proceed as normal, but when someone says something it can break through that wall. The very fact that you wrote a question on her behalf, shows that you are perceptive of her struggle and that you care for her. Now the next step is to reflect that back to her.
While periods of low mood and/or anhedonia can occur for many of us, extended periods of these symptoms indicate something more serious.
That could be many things going on with Darla, but her low mood and reduced social activities could suggest depression. I think the important thing that is sometimes missed is just how common depression can be. Research suggests that in any given year approximately 7% of the US population experiences Major Depression, with an even higher percentage experiencing subthreshold depressive symptoms.
While periods of low mood and/or anhedonia (loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities) can occur for many of us, extended periods of these symptoms indicate something more serious. The most important information when discussing depression is that it is also highly responsive to treatment. Both psychotherapy and medication are effective for treating depression and can be used as standalone treatments or in combination. If Darla is struggling with something more than a part-time funk, I would encourage her to consider reaching out for professional help as a first step. However, if she isn’t quite prepared to make that step, these books can also be a good place to start.
Dear Friend in a Funk,
You don’t have to be a best friend to be there for Darla. Considering that this behavior deviates from her normal responsiveness, I believe it’s fair to draw the conclusion that something isn’t right. Something as simple as her mentioning that she feels stuck in her job, is an insight that not all is merry in her world. If she is expressing signs of depression, then do not expect her to initiate contacting you. The best thing you can do right now is reach out, engage and be there for her.
Once you connect with Darla, do your best to listen. She may not open up about everything going on in her life, but simply giving her an ear to listen may be exactly what she needs. Reassure Darla that she can call on you if needed and try to get another date nailed down on the books sooner than two months.
Once you connect with Darla, do your best to listen.
If you don’t know already, I would also inquire about her friend and family situation in the city. Does she have anyone keeping tabs on her? If she is dealing with a mental health disorder and opens up about it, you may want to extend help in other ways. If she’s having a hard time getting out of the house, you can volunteer to go with her on a grocery run, or bring her dinner once a week. It will also give you an opportunity to check in on her.
Reserve your judgments and hold back from interjecting your thoughts until you have a clearer picture of what’s going on. In the meantime, let her know that you value her. Show her that by showing up. Recall some of the great times you had together that frivolous summer and get her laughing. Humor can help with healing and laughter can sometimes be the best medicine.