Dear Carolyn: I have this friend who lives close but I haven't seen in months. No one in our group of friends has seen her recently. Every time we make plans, she cancels, saying she is too sad or has been crying all day.
I'm really worried. She moved here more than a year ago to be closer to people she knows but has been unable to get out of the apartment consistently. We live in a big city, there's lots to do. But it all seems to scare her.
I've mentioned therapy, but she doesn't want to go. And I don't know how hard to push her to see a professional. I don't know whether to just drop by her place and say hi or if she is looking for me to insist she come out when she cancels. Sometimes I think maybe I'm being dense and she is ghosting me, but our other friends are having the same experience. What is the best way to help her?
Friends?: She sounds dangerously depressed. If her family isn’t part of the problem, then please tip them off as soon as possible to what you’ve experienced with her lately.
Also, yes, drop by her apartment. Be prepared to be rebuffed, but also be prepared to make an appointment for her to get medical attention, and to take her to that appointment yourself. An internist or general practitioner is often more accessible than a therapist, so start there if that’s what it comes to. Depression can be paralyzing, and sometimes it takes someone willing to walk her to a source of help, literally.
And: Rally your group of friends to reach out to her in a nonintrusive way on a daily basis. Coordinate it as you would visits to a person in the hospital. Whether it’s to leave a voice mail, send a text, or post something where you know she’s likely to see it, make sure it’s a reminder that you care and it doesn’t come with any obligation for her to do anything.
So, for example, send/post a photo of something: “Hey, I just saw this and I thought of you. Miss you! No need to write back.” These little lifelines push back against the voices of depression. Depression tells people they’re unlovable, that no one cares, that no one would miss them if they were gone — all kinds of awful lies that feed and deepen the depression. Friends who check in and ask nothing are an essential counterargument that your friend probably needs to hear.
Read “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh to understand that aspect of depression. She really nails it.
Re: Depression: I called friends crying while I was depressed, and they turned around from their drive to Upstate New York and came to me in D.C. I actually rallied to make dinner that night (but didn't have to leave my house!). It's been almost 10 years and I remember that like it was yesterday. If they had asked me if they could come, I might have said no, but they said, "We are coming," and it's probably the brightest moment in the time I was depressed by far.
— Please Drop In