Relationships with friends and family when you have depression

People who are depressed can find it difficult to feel close to anyone, and can even believe that their friends do not like them. They can also feel a burden to their friends and family, making it harder to ask for - and accept - help.

As discussed in the summary 'Childhood and life before depression', many people had difficult relationships with parents and siblings. These included that their families couldn't cope with mental health problems, lack of acknowledgement of feelings in families, homophobia, and poor communication. These problems made it hard to get the support people wanted from their families. It could be particularly difficult for people whose parents also had mental health problems, although some such parents were an inspiration.

Therapy could help people to cope with their families, and people also looked for support outside families, particularly from friends. One woman had family therapy, which helped the family to communicate better, and also helped her to think about her family differently. Despite problems in families people without any family connections can also suffer.

Some friends did not understand depression and the possible feelings and thoughts involved, and so could not give much support. Some people even provided unhelpful advice e.g. “just pull yourself together”, “Christians shouldn't get depressed”. The experience of depression and mania helped many people to work out who their real friends were, although it can be difficult to know whom to trust when depressed or manic.

Nevertheless, many stories describe how particular neighbours, friends, family members or colleagues could understand and be supportive. People sometimes got support from unlikely people. Friends who had had depression themselves were particularly helpful because they had first-hand understanding. Being able to talk about depression with supportive friends could be a great relief. There are some particularly tough issues like suicidal thinking that people benefited from talking to friends about. Interestingly, those who went to University (particularly the elite Universities) reported that they knew many depressed students, many of whom understood what they were going through.

While some people had good social networks of support, others were more isolated. Social situations could be threatening and several said it was hard to make friends when depressed, even though they knew that a better social life would be good for them. More isolated people could improve their networks by joining support groups or special interest groups and getting involved in voluntary activities outside the home.

Family and friends may not know what to do because depression can mean that people would rather isolate themselves from others than communicate. People said that friends and family could help by doing simple things. For instance, being around without necessarily saying anything, helping with practical problems; encouraging rather than persuading, listening without trying to provide solutions; watching out for signs that a person is becoming depressed or manic; and helping the person to engage in a distracting activity.

Sometimes supporting someone with depression can be tricky - as one woman said, her friends needed to be “switched on” to deal with her changing needs. Some friends and family act as advocates (i.e. doing something to help a person get something they need or want), such as helping the person to visit and communicate with their health professionals (for more information see Mind's guide to advocacy). One woman who told a friend that she had attempted suicide was immediately accompanied to her GP for help.

Those with a partner, wife, husband or children often worried about the effects of depression on them. Despite the difficulties for all, most praised their partners for the level of emotional and practical support they gave. Nevertheless, the effects of depression on carers was a particular concern for some. People worried especially about the impact of their depression on their children, and found the issue difficult to approach with their children.

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated April 2015.


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