Dear Harlan: How do I balance helping a friend who is depressed and not letting her problems get me depressed? She used to be part of our group of friends, but she doesn’t go out much. She’s hard to talk to. When she does go out, she’s quiet and sad. She is getting help, but every time I’m around her I leave feeling weighed down and depressed. I’m struggling to know how to help. I’m going to continue to be friends with her, but how can I manage all this heaviness? When we are together it’s like I know I’m going to be emotionally drained.
— Caring Friend
Dear Caring Friend: Caregiver fatigue is a real thing. And if you’ve never been in this situation before it can be draining. Start by knowing that this is totally normal. You are a GREAT friend. Next, remove all expectations when hanging out with her. Give her permission to feel however she’s going to feel. Focus less on getting something from her and more on giving her a great visit. Spend time together doing things you want to do. Do something you know she enjoys but is also fun for you. This can be seeing a movie together, taking a workout class, shopping, hiking, seeing a show — you get the idea. Share things in your life that are exciting to you. Ask her if she needs to talk, and be there to listen. Before you spend dedicated time with her, practice self-care. You can work out, meditate, journal or do whatever you do to take care of yourself so you’re balanced. Make sure you’re in a good place. If you need more help, go to a support group (it can be any group for family members, like Al-Anon) and ask how to support someone who is depressed. You are not alone. It will get better. She just needs time, professional care and love from family and friends. She is lucky to have you.