The Unique Complications of Having a Best Friend With Depression

It’s your friend, not you, who’s going through a hard time. But that doesn’t mean your life is gonna be easy


by Debrief Staff |
Published on

How easy is it to spot whether a friend – or indeed, one of your Twitter followers – has depression? Last week The Samaritans made the news when they launched Samaritan Radar, a new app that tried to do just this. It worked by monitoring people’s Twitter feeds, scanning for key ‘depressed’ phrases and then auto messaging them with how they could ask for help.

The app was quickly suspended after privacy concerns were voiced in the Twitterverse, but it left me thinking about my own best friend, and his struggle with depression. I wondered whether an app like this might have noticed him, and seen – like I often do – that he needs help.

In truth, nothing can prepare you for the moment your bright, brilliant, funny friend is completely swallowed up by depression, and they turn into someone you don’t even really recognise anymore and (whisper it), you’re not even sure you like.

READ MORE: How To Deal With A Flakey Friend Without Ruining Your Friendship

Being around a friend who is truly suffering with depression is utterly depressing. You’ll go from counting down the minutes until you can leave work and go and hang out with them to darting to the other side of the bar where all the happy people are.

The black cloud of depression is heavy and you’ll worry that it might spread to you, too. When it gets really bad, you’ll be forced to cling on to the memory of how brilliant they actually can be. It’s shit, and sometimes you’ll feel a secret, guilty but no-less urgent need to escape and be with anyone but them.

Sometimes you’ll feel a secret, guilty but no-less urgent need to escape and be with anyone but them

My friend’s bouts of depression always seem to follow a similar pattern. We’ll spend the night hanging out and getting pissed. He’s had a stressful week and wants to let off some steam. Then, halfway through the night, I’ll notice he’s been downing two drinks for every one of mine and he’s beginning to look a bit sloppy. He’s slurring his words, but he’s mostly on life-and-soul form and zips manically around the bar at lightning speed chatting to strangers and trying it on with anyone he can lay his hands on.

I’ll go home drunker than I wanted to be and wondering if we did, actually, have a good time.

Then a few days later, I’ll get a text before I have to head into an important meeting, asking me if we can ‘meet up tonight and talk’. I’ll spend the rest of the day in a state of nervous panic worrying that something’s pushed him over the edge again, and I fuck up multiple times in front of my boss. I should really stay late at work, but this seems more important. She shoots me a withering look as I get up from my desk at 6pm on the dot and rush to his place, picking up an emergency bottle of wine and a 20 pack of cigarettes on the way.

I’ll arrive at his house and it’s immediately obvious that he’s been crying. Fuck. We quietly sit down in his kitchen and I open the wine, waiting for him to talk – if I talk first it will only end in a row. The wait is agonising as he sighs and withers and fights to get his words out – this process can take hours. I have to fight every urge in my body to shake him and shout, ‘Spit it out! How can I help you if I don’t know what the fuck is wrong?’ But good friends don’t shout at their friends with depression. So I sit. And I wait.

Eventually, he’s able to tell me what has happened and we begin to talk it through. I’m mainly there to listen, and help him break it down into manageable-sized portions so he’ll be able to get through it. I love him and I’m proud of him, and he isn’t a bad person.

When I leave, he still seems down, but we’ve managed to have a few jokes towards the end of the evening and, while he’s a bit grey, he looks more like himself. I resolve to call every day and check in, but I’m hopeful he’s going to be OK.

READ MORE: Have You Met My Friend The Horrible Horrible Drunk

Then he’ll start doing things that deliberately make him feel worse – and my patience starts to wear thin. If it’s girlfriend problems that triggered his dark mood, he’ll go out and have sex with a stanger. If he was worried people are being promoted around him at work, he’ll be irascible with his boss and deliberately try to rile them. If he thinks he’s been drinking too much, he’ll buy a bag full of coke and ecstasy and go out for three days without sleeping.

All the while, I’ll be getting sometimes hourly weepy phone calls and text messages asking for reassurance and attention – and, of course, I oblige, even though I sometimes get so angry about how much he’s hurting himself with his own behaviour, I feel I could punch him square in the face.

For weeks, he becomes the centre of my life because that’s what is required of me. One night, while I was on a date, he gave me 32 missed calls in the space of two hours. It’s exhausting, and particularly difficult for any other men in my life to understand. Why would anyone spend this much time and effort on someone who they have no romantic interest in? Because he’s my friend and I have to be there for him.

Not that he’s ever asked me how I am since this whole cycle began. Not even once. You know he isn’t selfish deep down, but try explaining that to the man you’re sleeping with…

If you can call this coasting, next comes the Big Incident – an event so serious it makes him own up to the fact he isn’t coping with life. These have ranged from having him screaming outside his house that no one was paying him enough attention, to punching his friend outside a nightclub, to breaking his nose after coming off his bike one night while high on ketamine.

This is enough of a shock to bolt him into asking for some help and, thankfully, by now he knows that help has to come from his therapist and, although I won’t hear more than a cursory ‘hi, how are you?’ from him for a few weeks, I know the next time I see him he’ll be OK.

Now all I have to do is rebuild my own life…

If you, or your best friend, have concerns about depression contact The Samaritans

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Picture: Eylul Aslan

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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